Most evolutionary nursing pioneers go unnoticed during their time, yet later recognized as shaping the art of caregiving. These zealous figures apply courage to their convictions and advancements to the profession in extraordinary ways by exposing new concepts to nurse practitioners and regulatory associations, as noted by American Nurse Today. In the spirit of recognition, here are 10 individuals widely known for their improvements to the nursing practice.
1. Florence Nightingale
As the “Mother of Modern Nursing”, no historical account of the profession is complete without noting Florence Nightingale’s contribution. Reaffirmed in an article by a leading health care resource provider, the pioneer started her career by training in Egypt. She then went on to make history with her service for the British military during the Crimean War, where she developed the Polar Area Diagram that led to modern hospital sanitation practices.
2. Clara Barton
Clara Barton abandoned her career as a teacher to fill a more pressing role in delivering medical supplies during the American Civil War. Dubbed the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her relief efforts, Barton eventually founded the American Red Cross. She continued her work with the organization through 1904.
3. Mary Beckinridge
As a nurse-midwife, Mary Beckinridge introduced her specialty wherever she practiced. In 1925, she founded the New Model of Rural Health Care & Frontier Nursing Service, which delivers health care to underserved rural women and children. The organization, which significantly reduces maternal and infant mortality rates, still operate today.
4. Dorothea Dix
Dorothea Dix established the first mental asylum in the early 1800s. She advocated for mental health rights before Massachusetts state legislators and the United States Congress. Her work shaped current policies regarding the rights of the mentally ill.
5. Margaret Sanger
Planned Parenthood Founder, Margaret Sanger, started the organization after witnessing her mother die at a young age due to complications from pregnancies. The women’s health advocate spread the message “The Right to One’s Body” amid tempestuous public opposition. Although hostility forced Sanger to flee to Europe, she eventually returned to the United States to open the first birth control clinic.
6. Mary Mahoney
As the first African-American nurse, Mary Mahoney inspired women of color to enter the nursing practice, which like other professions was segregated in the 1800s. Historical sources reveal that she was one of only four students out of 42 to earn nursing certification in her 1879 class. Mahoney went on to found the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) to promote nursing as a profession among black women in the United States and Canada.
7. Walt Whitman
Commonly known for his poetry, novels and newspaper career, literary icon, Walt Whitman, also served as a male nurse during the Civil War. The experience greatly influenced his writing and, in turn, many American readers.
8. Lillian Wald
Nurse Lilian Wald was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Earlier, when her sister became ill, she instantly became interested in nursing and attended the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses. Later in life, she participated in the Women’s Peace Party (WPP), a peaceful World War I protest group. The activist took up several humanitarian causes during her lifetime and received recognition from many organizations for her works.
9. Mary Seacole
Jamaica native, Mary Seacole, was born to a free family with few civil rights. Despite her adversities, she traveled frequently, learning about medicine during her voyages. During the Crimean War, Ms. Seacole volunteered her knowledge and time to assist soldiers on the war front. Her work during the conflict earned her the name “Mother Seacole.”
10. Virginia Avenel Henderson
Known as the most famous nurse of the 20th century, caregiver Virginia Avenel Henderson influenced professional caregiver education, practice, and research. Today, nurse educators still use Henderson’s work for training purposes. For her contributions, the International Council of Nurses awarded her the Christiane Reimann Prize in 1985.
Nurse practitioners and educators have a firsthand perspective regarding the current state of health care. The American Nurses Association concurs that the intricate understanding by professional caregivers of what factors improve or impede community wellness is clearly a powerful tool. It gives nurses the knowledge to present the most pressing public health concerns to health care administrators and government legislators. As a result, patient advocacy is an ancillary, but critical, responsibility in the modern caregiving environment.
Fortunately, today’s nurses are not alone in their pursuit. Many health care organizations support wellness initiatives. This has never been more evident, with virtually every state now reviewing legislation to expand the nurse practitioner role for the sake of public health. Despite this added support, exceptional individuals will continue to emerge as leaders among the many — a noble goal for aspiring nurses.
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Ohio University Blog, “8 TED Talks for Nurse Practitioners”
Ohio University Blog, “6 Best Practices for Nurse Educators to Teach Patients About Their Health”
American Nurse Today, “Nursing Today”
Pulse Uniform, “25 Famous Nurses”
Nurse Buff, “Greatest Nurses in History”
Nursing World, “Influencing Health Care in the Legislative Arena”