Since the beginnings of time, nursing has been shaped by different cultures and societies and by the changes within those societies. The word nursing derives its meaning from the Latin word nutricius which means nourishing. Therefore, in the ancient world nursing was viewed as a role of caring for the family and not a profession.
In the world history of nursing, roots can be traced to religion, mythology, and Eastern and Western societies. The ancient Egyptians utilized perhaps the first formal nurses, hiring them to assist in childbirth. It is from these beginnings that today’s midwives evolved.
Among the Greeks and Romans, it was believed that gods and goddesses influenced healing. There was a deity for almost every human biological function. The women of the family of Asklepios were mythological nurses. The world’s history of nursing records Hygeia as being the goddess of health. In the Roman Empire, Roman noblewomen cared for the sick. However, in some cultures the care of the sick was not a revered enterprise and was a task of prostitutes.
During the middle ages, the focus of the world history of nursing changed and became centralized around religious orders. Care of the sick was seen as a function of the church. Nursing care was provided by both men and women and was segregated by sex with persons caring for others of the same gender.
War has had the greatest influence upon the world history of nursing, for historically it has been through war that the demand for nurses has been the greatest. Perhaps the person who has been ascribed the distinction of having changed the world history of nursing the most was Florence Nightingale. She wrote many books and papers on the practice of nursing and developed new standards for hygiene that saved the lives of many soldiers. It was through her experiences with war that the first formal theories and training schools for nurses were developed and nursing began to rise to the status of a profession.
Nursing continues to evolve and be shaped as a body of science and has made great professional strides since its inception. The world history of nursing reveals that nurses, whether formal or informal have long filled a needed place in society. Nurses now are needed more than ever before. Now, as today’s nurses shape the world history of nursing, we look forward to the respect the profession deserves.