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Early Nursing

From Nursing Career

Early Nursing (Pre-Nightingale Years)

It can rightly be said that nursing has been around as long as humans have been around. Whenever sickness or injury breaks occurs within a group, be it a family, a neighborhood, or a larger structure, there have always been those, in every culture, who make it their duty to comfort them and take care of the needs that cannot be fulfilled. As human populations grew the need for these caretakers in a more concentrated position, localized on a central premises, grew greater. This was especially evident in times of conflict, as the injured were brought back from the front lines and their wounds tended to in a place that was somewhat out of the danger zone.


Out of the dual, and seemingly conflicting, considerations of a burden for the incapacitated and the outbreak of war the seeds of the modern nursing profession were born. In many cases, the organization of a group of people dedicated to caring for the sick was germinated by religious organizations. This can be seen in many ancient civilizations, including the Greeks and the Romans, the forebears of modern Western society. Most of the care of the sick- outside diagnosis and subscriptive treatment- in these societies was undertaken by clergy of the various gods and goddesses, particularly those who oversaw healing.


Islamic society was among the first to give rise to organized hospitals. These institutions were set up as locations where the sick could be diagnosed as well as treated; the accumulation of large groups of unwell in one place necessarily gave rise to the need of another group to see to their care.


The idea of the Islamic hospital (and many other innovations) was transferred to Western society through the Crusades. In fact, the Crusading orders were the first Western incarnation of a group of dedicated nurses. There were three main orders whose duties included taking care of the sick; the Knights of St. John, the Knight Hospitallers, the Teutonic Knights, and the Knights of St. Lazarus. While most of these orders were dedicated to the treatment of the injured and the poor, the Knights of St. Lazarus were solely dedicated to the care of those afflicted with leprosy and other virulent diseases.


As the organizations of caretakers took place within the military, the need for a parallel organization was seen back in the home countries. Of particular importance in the development of care both in the homes and the hospitals in the West was the development of the Third Order of St. Francis. While the first two orders dedicated to the saint required members to take oaths of chastity as well as to sever most social connections, the Third Order allowed the devoted to continue their lives at home while maintaining regular lives. The incarnation of their beliefs within their towns included a commitment to caring for the sick and injured.


The advent of the Reformation in the sixteenth century was the beginning of a huge setback for nursing in the Western World. The en masse rejection of almost everything Catholic by the new Protestant movement meant that much of the progress that had been made in medicine as far as recuperation was lost as churches, their structures, and their orders were shut down throughout Europe. Without those dedicated and trained through the experience of others, the nursing profession was forced into an alarming stall that would last for over two centuries. This setback would see the gradual degradation of not only hospitals, but also those who dedicated their lives to working in them. European hospitals became nothing more than poorhouses occupied by the dregs of society and looked down on by adherents to the new Protestant ethic. Those who worked among these people were often viewed only slightly higher, as consorts of prostitutes and drunks.


Coming just before the age of discovery, this change in the function of European hospitals would have a profound effect on lands that were colonized by Protestant countries including America. It was not until the nineteenth century, largely under the initiative and auspices of individuals rather than organizations, that the nursing profession would be ushered into a new era of professionalism which included the laying of most of the foundations of modern nursing.

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This page was last modified on 18 January 2007, at 21:01. - This page has been accessed 4,556 times. - Disclaimers - About Nursing Career