Nursing Schools – A History

The first written history of nursing is contained in the Bible. The Talmud and other writings also mention tending to the ill. In the 5th century BC the Hippocratic Oath was born delineating physician responsibilities and ethics. However, it was far later that nursing became a profession and professional teaching and standards were established.

Starting with the first century AD, tending to the sick was the duty of women in religious orders. As a young child Saint Marcella was heavily influenced by Saint Athanasuis leading her to devote her life to works of Christian charity when widowed after only seven months of marriage. Her palatial home on the Aventine Hill was turned into a center for Christian fellowship and learning. It was during this time that she shared her knowledge of the scriptures and nursing with other noble ladies desiring to live a life of asceticism. For this she earned the title as the very first nurse educator.

This changed in northern Europe with the era of the Crusades during the years 1096 to 1291. Groups such as the Knights Hospitallers of St. John in Jerusalem took over nursing duties. For women, the caring of the infirm became the duty of prisoners or prostitutes. This dark age of nursing saw nurses degraded and tending to the ill or infirm became the most menial of tasks.

This trend was not altered until the middle of the 19th century when pastor Theodor Fliedner founded the Kaiserwerth School for Nursing in 1836 in Kaiserwerth, Germany. Until this point, nurses had little formal training in nursing skills. An offshoot of this school was the Lutheran Order of Deaconessess. In 1850, Florence Nightingale became a student at this institution and forever changed the face of nursing. She was responsible for turning nursing into a profession as she traveled the world sharing her knowledge. In essence, she became the first travel nurse. By the end of the 19th century other schools in Europe had been established to provide nurses training.

After founding the Kaiserwerth School, Theodor Fliedner, along with four deaconesses, traveled to the United States in 1849 to become involved in initiating the first training school in the US at the Pittsburgh Infirmary, later known as Passavant Hospital. They were influence by Florence Nightingale and her philosophy of nursing education; these principles of cleanliness, nurse/patient relationship, disease prevention, continuing education and medical teamwork are still the basis of modern nursing training.

Although states such as New York and Pennsylvania had some nursing teachers on their hospital staff, the Pittsburgh Infirmary became the start of formal nurses’ training in the United States. By 1873, three nursing schools had been established in the US based on the nursing philosophy of Florence Nightingale: these were Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing in New York City, NY, Connecticut Training School in New Haven, CT and Boston Training School in Boston, MA.

Florence Nightingale is credited with bringing respectability to the nursing profession, creating a formal nursing training program. One of her students designed her original nursing uniforms using a system of uniforms with differing bands and to denote skill levels. The uniforms were used by all of the student nurses in her school of nursing and were copied by other nursing schools and hospitals. They remained very much the same until the 20th century.

In the United States, the advent of the Civil War emphasized the need for nurses. Dorothea Dix was selected to be the Superintendent of female Nurses by the Union Army in 1861. She in turn recruited others to assist in the care of the wounded. One of these recruits, Clara Barton, went on to establish the American Red Cross.

The following years saw much advancement in nurses training. Dorothea Dix led the fight for improved health care for the mentally ill. The first college level nursing program was established at Columbia University in 1907 due to the efforts of Mary Adelaide Nutting and Isabel Robb.

In the 1980’s traditional white nursing uniforms gave way to uniform scrubs. Originally worn solely in the operating room in colors of green or blue, uniform scrubs found their way into all areas of hospital nursing and into doctor and dental offices. Companies such as Cherokee Scrubs and Dickies Scrubs expanded the unisex scrub into a uniform with figure flattering styles for all body shapes and a multitude of colors and prints. Different hospital units took to wearing designated colors to differentiate their work space. Prints became fun and many pediatric prints helped make a child’s hospital stay a little less imposing. By the 1990’s uniform scrubs had become very popular, as they were easier to work in. Although some nursing schools still opt for traditional nursing uniforms for its students, many now outfit their nurse trainees in uniforms scrubs, saving the traditional white dress and cap for their capping and graduation ceremonies.

Today, the nursing profession has reached new heights of respectability. With an abundance of nursing schools all over the world, care for the sick is not relegated to untrained workers in most modern countries, leading to better health care and better quality of life.