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A brief history of nursing

26th January 2022 Print

The nursing profession today commands a workforce of over 593,000 in the UK alone. Around the globe, nursing remains one of the largest labour pools we have. Unfortunately, nursing was not always as popular or well-respected as it is now. 


Until the mid-19th century, nursing was often thought to demand neither skill, training nor respect. Surprisingly, the nursing profession was deemed suitable only for weak, old, or ignorant women! For a young, unmarried, and well-bred woman, to become a nurse was seen as improper – particularly given the intimate services oft-required of nurses, such as washing the body or feeding the sick. 

Furthermore, the cleaning and feeding of another was seen as a domestic task usually delegated to household servants, and nurses were likelier to find themselves sweeping the floors or washing the dishes as their daily hospital chores. 

The role of a nurse was not well understood (or really appreciated) pre-1800s. This is largely because, prior to the 19th century, illness was rarely treated in a hospital. A sick person would usually be nursed by female family members or servants, with assistance from the family doctor. 

Mid-19th century 

The mid-19th century marked a significant change in the nursing profession, and medicine as a whole. The discovery and application of anaesthetics, antiseptic surgery, new and developing medical techniques, the opening of hospitals to all classes; such innovations broadened nursing as a career, and elevated the importance of nurses’ training, gradually leading to the introduction of educated women as skilled nurses in hospital wards.

However, the most significant development in nursing during the mid-19th century rested in the hands of Florence Nightingale, “Mother of Nursing”. In 1854, at the request of the British government, Florence Nightingale went to Turkey with a team of nurses, to care for soldiers in the Crimean War. Here, Nightingale noticed the severe deficiency in hospital conditions: dirty, overcrowded rooms and insufficient supplies. 

Florence began to make a change. Under her guidance, wards were properly cleaned with set standards of care. Psychological care became just as important as the physical, with importance placed on fresh air and natural light. 

Florence gained great fame for her work at home, and became a Victorian icon. As the ‘ministering angel’, Florence used her influence to campaign for nursing as a profession, and better healthcare in England. By 1860, the Nightingale Training School was opened at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. This was one of the first institutions to teach nursing and midwifery as a formal profession, following the philosophies of Florence Nightingale. 

Furthermore, Nightingale’s 1859 work Notes on Nursing brought care principles into focus, and set into motion modern principles on nursing. 

The modern day 

Today, nurses are healthcare professionals that provide essential, direct patient care. Nursing is a skilled profession, that requires extensive training and specialised certification. We rely on nurses to keep hospitals running smoothly, and patients well cared for.  Fortunately, nursing is now a time-honoured practice, and commands great respect around the world. 

In the here and now, finding the nurse jobs that are just right for you can be difficult. If you are a nurse looking to find the ideal permanent role, consider Medimatch. Here, career specialists can connect you with hospital nurse jobs that are perfectly matched to you – free of charge for all applicants. Make nursing history yourself, today.