The history of nursing in America is a look at the evolution of centuries-old techniques of caring for the sick and injured blended with advances in scientific understanding, technology, regulatory advances and even gender roles. While nursing is practiced in different ways in countries across the world, nursing in the United States sets the standards for much of the rest of the modern world.
Early American Nursing History
Women had long been the ones to care for the sick, using folk remedies and medicines to treat any number of ailments. No formal training existed for these medical skills; rather, the information was handed down through the generations. In the late 1800s, nursing became a trained profession in England and standards, registrations and regulations, led by Florence Nightingale, were established. The United States quickly formed similar regulations and organizations that standardized training methods for nurses. The Nurses Associated Alumnae was formed in 1897 in Maryland and was designed to regulate nursing colleges for professional nurses.
State Laws for Nursing
In order to prevent patients from receiving inadequate nursing care from someone who was not trained in the most advanced nursing techniques, many states passed nursing certification and licensing laws in the early 1900s. Several states, such as Virginia and New Jersey, enforced stricter qualifying standards for those seeking to enter the nursing schools. It was around this time that nurses moved out of the hospitals exclusively and to nursing opportunities at doctor's offices, clinics and in other preventative care environments.
World War I
When the United States entered World War I, the need for nurses who could work professionally and effectively rose dramatically. New levels of injuries from modern weaponry and the advances in patient care continually raised the level of education that nurses needed in order to perform their duties. Post-war nurses were so numerous that there were not enough jobs to keep them employed. This glut continued through the Great Depression, and nursing opportunities were scarce.
World War II
It wasn't until the second World War that there was another upswing in nursing and nurse training. The need was so great that the government offered incentives for women to become nurses, including free housing, tuition and even stipends. The US Cadet Nurses Corps operated from 1943 through 1949 to facilitate the recruiting, training and placement of nurses for the war effort.
Boomers and Beyond
The baby boomers of post-World War II required nurses in a big way, from labor and delivery nurses to pediatric nurses. Increasing technology required nurses to assist doctors in new and innovative ways, from radiology nurses to surgical nurses. With Medicare introduced in the 1960s, more people took advantage of health care, and the demand for nurses soared. Equal rights opened the field to more men, but the field is still dominated by women. Throughout the late -60s and early -70s, the Vietnam War again spurred the need for more nurses.
Since the early 1980s, the number of nurses available has not met the growing demand for professional and quality nursing care. One solution to the problem gave rise to the travel nurse, a professional who moves from location to location with all expenses paid, serving in areas of her choice. Even today, there is a severe shortage of nurses that is considered to be at crisis level. The government is again enticing both men and women to enter the nursing field with free tuition and grants in order to swell the numbers of nurses.
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