Relation of the Nurse to the Public
By Isabel Hampton Robb
Outside the hospital the trained nurse is still regarded as a not altogether unmixed blessing, and the public will need several more years of education before they can be brought to thoroughly appreciate the nurses position or the relative value of the services of the trained nurse and those of the untrained attendant or the well-meaning, enthusiastic, but untaught amateur.
Trained nurses are regarded by the public with very mixed feelings. As a class their position and the good they do in the hospital is now unquestioned, although, individuals may be prejudiced against some particular nurse and her ways. But outside the hospital the trained nurse is still regarded as a not altogether unmixed blessing, and the public will need several more years of education – in which perhaps proper legislation, defining more precisely the standard requirements for members of the profession, will be of no little assistance – before they can be brought to thoroughly appreciate her position or the relative value of the services of the trained nurse and those of the untrained attendant or the well-meaning, enthusiastic, but untaught amateur.
Influencing Public Opinion
But meanwhile, there is much that every individual (nursing school) graduate can do in a quiet way to influence the tide of public opinion. Nor would it be reasonable for us to look upon legal registration or other legislative enactments as a panacea for the present unsatisfactory condition of affairs, for always, as now, it will largely rest with ourselves what status we and our work are to hold in the eyes of the public at large. The trained nurse, then, should teach those with whom she is brought into contact to expect of her the same high order of services, though of a different nature, as is demanded of the physician; and her instruction must take the form not of words but of thorough work and the most exemplary personal conduct. She should practically demonstrate to them that, apart from the fact that trained skill may be the means of saving life, when a cheap and incompetent attendant might fail through inexperience, the acceptance of her services, even when the highest fees are demanded, constitute a real economy, because, where there is intelligent and efficient nursing, many visits of the physician, which would otherwise be necessary, can be dispensed with; while at the same time far greater comfort to the patient is ensured, and his recovery is rendered much more rapid, with the result that the expenses of the illness are curtailed.
Nurses as Educators
Only after a long series of such results can men ever be expected to appreciate the fact that what is the best is always the cheapest in the long run. As an educator in the laws of health and right living, the nurse is gradually assuming her proper place, so that people are beginning to rely upon her co-operation to aid in preventing the spread of contagious diseases, by her timely precautions in places where she discovers their existence. By the way in which she does her work in the house in which sickness is present, she can teach the principles of home nursing and certain of the laws of health as regards proper clothing, the best methods of preparing food most suitable to the various conditions existing in health and disease, how to recognize certain adulterations of the more common articles of diet, how to guard against infectious disease, and how to meet emergencies. As a profession, as time goes on, we shall more and more be called upon to arrange organized nursing forces with which to aid in meeting any great public calamity or violent epidemic of disease, while at the same time each individual nurse is expected to do her share on all occasions where her presence is required, even at any risk to her own life.
Responsibility to the Public
Such are some of the responsibilities towards the public which every (nursing school) graduate takes upon herself – responsibilities which call for a special fitness to be supplemented by a special training. And after years of toil, after nurses, as individuals and as a united profession, have shown themselves to be necessary for the public welfare, it will most assuredly come about that, more and more, people will come to the conclusion that capability in nursing does not come by chance, and that a natural liking must be supplemented by education and practical training; the (public) will gradually appreciate the fact that a trained nurse has spent time, money and much physical effort, in acquiring her education, that the mental and physical strain is more arduous than that belonging to any other kind of work done by women, and therefore that this expenditure deserves suitable recognition at their hands. The friends of the sick will understand that the nurse takes charge of a succession of patients, not only one in a life-time, so that if she exhausts all her latent energies on their dear one by devoting herself day and night to caring for him without proper rest, food and exercise, she will be in no possible condition to go on to some other sufferer and do equally well; if she makes the attempt too often, she finally ends in breaking down physically, so as to be obliged to discontinue her work, and the public loses the services of a valuable servant through its own selfishness and thoughtlessness in overtaxing her.
Nurses Improve Our World
Moreover, as time goes on, those who were ever ready to criticize her efforts and to treat her as an interloper, will gradually learn that the world is better and happier from her presence, and that absolute perfection and flawless work should not be demanded at all times from nurses while they remain mere human beings. On the other hand, those friends, whose appreciation has often been shown by a not always wise enthusiasm, may come to appreciate the fact that the best of us are liable to have their heads turned by exaggerated praise and too much adulation. Nor will her name always be associated with sickness only, for in a majority of the movements for the betterment of the masses, the training of the nurse will fit her to take a useful share.
It is only by utilizing all the means at our disposal and by a steady application, which is ever seeking to add to our known resources others which are gradually being developed; above all, it is only by doing our work for the work’s sake, that we can hope to obtain the best and the most far-reaching results, and that our chosen profession will stand out as a beacon, ever kept bright by the light of our choicest personal endeavors, that will cause it to shine with a penetrating and attractive light, towards which all, who when in physical and mental suffering need to be ministered unto, may turn with the full assurance that they will not do so in vain.
-Robb is the Former President of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nurses.