IMPORTANT: We are experiencing some technical issues and cannot accept credit card payments at this time. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience. Please check back later to complete your purchase.


A Brief History of Nursing: Florence Nightingale, the Red Cross, and Modern Day Nursing

Nursing is the profession that focuses on providing optimal care for individuals in recovery so that they can return to living a healthy life. Nurses are health care professionals that offer support in the medical environment. They have varying levels of prescription authority. While they are traditionally within the ordering scope of physicians, these care providers are often permitted to practice independently in a variety of settings.

When it comes to the history of nursing, some early records of people providing medical care to the sick and injured may be considered the very first nurses. For example, the Hippocratic Collection that existed in the fifth century BC described male “attendants” who offered skilled care and observation for patients. There was also a description of the nurse role in 600 BC in India, recorded in Sushruta Samhita, Book 3, Chapter V.

Members of certain religious orders like monks and nuns also provided care traditionally. There are Christian, Buddhist, and Islamic examples of this. Even today, modern nursing has some religious roots.

During the Reformation of the 16th century, nursing as a profession experienced a major setback for approximately 200 years when Protestant reformers shut down convents and monasteries, which prevented nuns from fulfilling their nursing role. Even the traditional caretakers who provided nursing care were removed from their positions.



Florence Nightingale is often credited for laying the foundations of professional nursing after the Crimean War. Nightingale established that health is directly linked to environmental factors such as fresh air, clean water, efficient drainage, and direct sunlight. This, along with her Notes on Nursing, and her active involvement with injured and sick soldiers made her the world’s first nurse theorist. She became a model of professional education, believing that nursing could become a liberating professional option for women of her time.

Her recommendations were built upon the findings and successes of Mary Seacole and other Jamaican “doctresses” who used hygiene and herbs to heal wounded soldiers. Another important figure in the history of nursing is Agnes Hunt who served a pivotal role in the emergence of the orthopedic hospital. She is considered the first orthopedic nurse.

In 1863, Red Cross chapters began appearing thanks to the establishment of the International Committee of the Red Cross. They provided employment opportunities for nurses, making it a full-fledged profession.

Even Catholic orders such as Sisters of St. Mary, Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Francis Health Services, Inc. Sisters of Mercy, and Sisters of Charity built hospitals that offered nursing services during this time.

In the early 1900s, hospital-based training came to the fore. While a lot of nurses worked during World War I, the profession truly developed during World War II.

Now in this modern era, there are now undergraduate and postgraduate degrees for nursing. Nursing research continues to advance and develop. Nursing is now recognized as a distinct academic discipline. Nurse education has also developed to the point where nurses may earn specialized credentials, which further diversifies the field. Even the traditional roles of nurses are changing, and we can only expect the field to evolve as new technologies are developed.



Featured Promotion

Recent Articles

Follow Us



Welcome to our ALL NEW Website

If you already have a freeCE account, click “Account Login” in the navigation bar.


Sign up to PharmCon’s newsletter
to get exclusive discounts on
courses, study tools, and more!