Nursing as a Profession
By Isabel Hampton Robb
Nursing should be regarded as a profession, not just a vocation. The trained nurse should be regarded as one who has knowledge and is worthy of respect, consideration and due. As the standard of education and requirements become of a higher character and the training more efficient, the trained nurse will draw nearer to science and its demands and take a greater share as a social factor in solving the world’s needs.
Nurses are still reaching out towards ideals which we trust may be realized in the fullness of time. In speaking of nursing as a profession for women, I have used the term advisedly. Some prefer the term vocation, or the Anglo-Saxon word, calling. The last, if made to bear the significance of a direct call from God to a consecrated service, would rather suggest, on first thought, a sisterhood with its religious restrictions; and surely profession means all that vocation does and more. The work of the clergy, the lawyer and the physician is spoken of as a profession; the term implies more responsibility, more serious duty, a higher skill and an employment needing an education more thorough than that required in some other vocations of life. Every day these qualities are more and more being demanded of the trained nurse by modern physicians and by an exacting laity; and whether we recognize it or not, the fact remains that in so far as we fall short of meeting these requirements, in just such proportions are we found fault with and severely criticized.
Always Room for Improvement
Nor are the criticisms that we so often hear always unjust, for in glancing over the list of our attainments and summing them up there will be found room for much improvement. I think even the best among us are ready to acknowledge our imperfections, and the steady hard work that has been put into the past ten years in efforts towards improvements shows a healthy dissatisfaction and augurs well for the betterment of the future nurse. We cannot stand still; in the future the public, both medical (professionals) and the laity, will be ever demanding a still more efficient nursing, more uniformity, and a higher order of woman to meet these requirements. To be sure there are still to be found among the very conservative those who cannot become accustomed to the new order of things and who are not yet prepared to find the refined educated woman in the trained nurse; who do not comprehend the real difference between nursing as an occupation and as a profession. Their attitude would seem to be mainly due to the fact that they still labor under the impression that nursing consists chiefly in manual labor and that there is no necessity or scope afforded by it for a high degree of education. There are also those who proclaim that the old-fashioned nurse is good enough for them and maintain that nursing has not the first elements of a profession; they hold that the duties required of a nurse are very simple, that her education is complete when she has learned to make a bed and wash the patient, take the temperature and prepare the food, in fact to perform the ordinary duties for which any of the old-fashioned nurses were qualified.
Increasing Demands of Modern Medicine
To distinguish between this popular idea of the care of the sick and to justify us in our pretensions to the rank of a profession we must consider the demands made by scientific medicine of today. Its methods are as different from those of the old-time practice as are those of modern nursing from the old-time nursing. Not so long ago neither medicine nor nursing were scientific in character. But the evolution of the one created a necessity for the other. Modern medicine requires a thorough scientific training and modern methods of treatment require that the work of the physician be supplemented by the constant and intelligent service supplied by the trained nurse, who has now her allotted part to perform in helping to carry cases of grave sickness to a successful termination. Thus, for example, it requires more than mere mechanical skill on the part of a nurse to follow the preparations for an aseptic operation, full of significance, as it is, in every detail, and the saying that “dust is danger” must have a bacteriologically practical meaning for her. At the present day, in all branches of surgery, the selection of a suitable operating-room nurse is no less important than that of any of the surgeon’s staff. Nor can just anyone appreciate the full meaning of the physician when he says “the nursing will be half the battle in this case.” Even the general public has come to recognize the important part that skilled nursing plays in such diseases as typhoid fever, pneumonia, and other forms of infectious disorders, because of the constant and intelligent care that must be given such patients.
Training and More Training
To acquire not only the practical but also the theoretical groundwork of her profession, a (nurse) must devote three of the best years of her life to special preparation and to obtaining a thorough understanding of the principles of nursing. Nothing can take the place of this training. It means all the difference that lies between the skilled, practiced worker and the amateur. Nursing has thus become a matter of scientific discipline and is a therapeutic agent of ever increasing importance. It is this education of the intelligence that constitutes the main difference between the trained nurse of today and the so-called nurse of former days, and that has rendered nursing worthy to rank as a department in scientific medicine.
The Spirit of Nursing
To be sure there is the side to nursing so often spoken of as menial, but nothing dominated by the mind, and dignified by the way in which it is done, can be derogatory; nor need the cultured and trained (nurse), when the emergency arises, shrink from unpleasant tasks. The spirit in which she does her work makes all the difference. Invested as she should be with the dignity of her profession and the cloak of love for suffering humanity, she can ennoble anything her hand may be called upon to do, and for work done in this spirit there will ever come to her a recompense far outweighing that of silver and gold.
The trained nurse, then, is no longer to be regarded as a better trained, more useful, higher class servant, but as one who has knowledge and is worthy of respect, consideration and due recompense – in a certain degree a member of a profession. She is also essentially an instructor; part of her duties have to do with the prevention of disease and sickness, as well as the relief of suffering humanity. In district nursing we are confronted with conditions which require the highest order of work, but the actual nursing of the patient is one of the least of the duties which the nurse is called upon to perform for the class of people with whom she meets. To this branch of our work no more appropriate name can be given than “instructive nursing,” for educational in the best sense of the word it should be.
These are some of the essentials in nursing by which it has come to be regarded as a profession, but there still remains much to be desired, much to work for, in order to add to its dignity and usefulness. As the standard of education and requirements become of a higher character and the training more efficient, the trained nurse will draw nearer to science and its demands and take a greater share as a social factor in solving the world’s needs.
-Robb is the Former President of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nurses.