The nursing profession has a long and storied history as a profession of caring and providing for the needs of the sick and injured throughout the world. Nursing education advanced rapidly in the 19th Century as a result of wars. Florence Nightingale established a school of nursing to teach young women the science and art of nursing. As the decades progressed, practical nursing schools became well-established. Eventually, the field of registered nurses (RN) developed. Nursing later achieved the recognition of nursing as a college degree and profession with the establishment of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Nursing’s education continued to evolve to recognize even higher degrees. These would later include the nurse practitioner (NP) and certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). The field of nursing education has now firmly established the profession of nurses as one of the most respected careers in the modern world.
The History of Nursing Education
Nursing has a long and prestigious history as a profession of caring for others. However, one special area in the story of nursing involves the history of nursing education. Nurses undergo academically rigorous programs to obtain a nursing license. These programs have developed over the decades to ensure that the quality of nurses continues as the profession advances with science and medicine.
Nursing education developed as a form of practical nursing in the 19th Century. Specifically, women were often hired as domestic workers; part of the job duties associated with this included caring for the ill and sick. It became important that nursing offered a form of basic education for the women who would care for the sick. Unfortunately, as is often in the medical sciences, wars led to an advancement of nursing education worldwide. Florence Nightingale worked during the Crimean War to reduce suffering and deaths. She educated a significant amount of women in the profession of nursing. She also encouraged the nurses to practice strict cleanliness and utilized statistics to reduce mortality and morbidity (Oleckna, 2002, p. 16). After the war ended, she established the Nightingale School for Nursing. This school allowed the students to study both theory and practicum in nursing, a radical departure from previous nursing training (Egenes, 2009, p. 5).
In the United States, the Civil War also led to increased education for nurses. Clara Barton, an educator and nurse, also taught women the profession of nursing. She later followed this with the education of nurses during the Franco-Prussian War. She then established the American Red Cross which began to offer practical nursing programs in 1908 (Ellis & Hartley, 2004, p. 195). In 1892, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) also offered a practical nursing course in Brooklyn for young women interested in learning the profession (Ellis & Hartley, 204, p. 195). Obviously, the practical nursing programs became well-established around the turn of the 20th Century. This allowed nursing to develop further as a profession and to advance the quality and level of nursing education.
As nursing progressed, advocates for the nursing profession argued that the education of nurses belonged in schools of higher education. A 1965 paper on nursing education indicated that the minimum level of practical nursing should be an associate’s degree in science (A.S.). Furthermore, for the professional nurse, the paper recommended a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree should be required. This had tremendous impacts on the field of nursing education overall. “This move to academia placed new demands on faculty, especially those in baccalaureate programs. To meet accreditation requirements, faculty were expected to obtain a master’s degree as a minimum and a doctoral degree for tenure” (Allen, Allison, & Stevens, 2006, p. E-123). The move towards higher education for all nurses therefore helped establish even higher levels of nursing education. It pushed forward the need to develop graduate and doctoral level degrees for nursing faculty.
Nursing would eventually progress to allow greater autonomy in medicine for nurses. Only recently has CRNAs gained widespread recognition for their talents and education. However, the field was first established in 1956. Recently, the field has greatly expanded its educational programs for nurses who wish to pursue this career option. As of March, 2013, there were 113 accredited programs in the United States. Some of these programs allow the nurses to receive a doctoral level degree in nurse anesthesiology. The career opportunities in this field are expected to increase with the growth of its education (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists at a Glance, 2013).
Advanced nurse practitioners represent another area of expanded nursing education. This area of education also began in the late 1950s. As physicians moved to specialties in large numbers, the need for practitioners in general practice increased significantly. Physicians began to work with nurses with strong clinical backgrounds to develop an educational program for nurse autonomy. These programs have also grown in popularity and further cemented the image of the professional nurse. The development of Medicare and Medicaid further increased the need for health care providers in the general practice concentration. As these programs advanced, the field of nursing education increased with them to provide coverage in these critical shortfalls (O’Brien, 2003).
The history of nursing education clearly indicates that nurses have advanced their educational abilities to meet the needs and demands of the patients and the health care system. As society requires new skills in nurses, either from wars and disasters or from changes in the health care structure, nurses have moved forward and met these challenges. The history of nursing education offers an opportunity for all nurses to be proud of their heritage and the profession’s ability to grow.
- Allen, M., Allison, MM., & Stevens, S. (2006). Mapping the literature of nursing education. J Med Libr Assoc. 94(2 Suppl): E122–E127.
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists at a Glance. (2013). American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. Retrieved July 9, 2013, from: http://www.aana.com/ceandeducation/becomeacrna/Pages/Nurse-Anesthetists-at-a-Glance.aspx
- Egenes, K. (2009). History of nursing. In R. Gayle (Ed.), Issues and trends in nursing: essential knowledge for today and tomorrow (pp. 1-26). Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
- Ellis, JR. & Hartley, CL. (2004). Nursing in today’s world: trends, issues and management (8th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkes.
- O’Brien, J. (2002) How nurse practitioners obtained provider status: lessons for pharmacists. Am J Health Syst Pharm. Retrieved July 9, 2013, from: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/464663_2
- Oleckna, WA., (2002). Essential epidemiology. Long Grove: Waveland Press.