A Historical View of Nursing Roles

A historical view of nursing roles

Nurses play a vital role in health care. They contribute immensely to the prevention, control, and treatment of diseases and attend to a wide range of patients suffering from different diseases such as mental disorders, communicable and chronic diseases. The roles of nurses have advanced over time. Making it more efficient for nurses to attend to patients and provide quality health care.

The history of nursing can be traced back to the early days. When nursing had not yet become a profession. Nursing care was either provided by women or medicine men. Women were viewed as natural caregivers because of their ability to nurture infants. Later, religious organizations intervened and began to produce nurses whose practice was based on religious principles such as Christianity and Islamic.

The nurses were known as deacons. The church bishops instructed these deacons to visit and care for the sick in their homes. Later religious committees made of religious leaders such as monks and nuns began to build hospitals. An example of such a hospital is the Convent Hospital at Beaune in France. At this point, nursing had not yet become a full profession and there was no much training done. The competence of a nurse was based on the experience and the number of positive outcomes they had managed to achieve.

Florence Nightingale was an upper-class British woman who brought a mega transformation in the nursing industry. She realized that the mortality rate of British soldiers was at 41%. The soldiers died mostly because of illnesses rather than injuries during wars. She took a group of British female nurses to offer nursing care. She knew that hygiene is essential in preventing the spread of germs. She thus cleaned the military barracks and ensured there were enough ventilation and lighting. The mortality rate lowered drastically. She documented the results and opened a school for training nurses.

Nurses mostly engaged in bedside care, home-based care, school care, and military care. They also cared for the marginalized communities and aided in the control, prevention and cure of diseases. In the 20th-century private duty registry system connected nursing graduates with jobs and they also helped patients get nurses who will attend to them. Since then the nursing profession has grown and nurses are now engaging in more advanced roles. Associations such as the American Nursing Association have also been formed.


Morgan, Irene S., and Gene W. Marsh. “Historic and future health promotion contexts for nursing.” Image: The Journal of Nursing Scholarship 30.4 (1998): 379-383.

Dolan, Josephine A., M. Louise Fitzpatrick, and Eleanor Krohn Herrmann. Nursing in society: A historical perspective. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1983.

Dingwall, Robert, Anne Marie Rafferty, and Charles Webster. An introduction to the social history of nursing. Routledge, 2002.

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