May 15, 2016 News
By Sharmain Grainger
“Nursie” is an all too familiar name that we hear in many of our communities. When said, it often exudes affection and respect towards the individual it is directed. These individuals are more often than not women, but sometimes men, who have a place in the nursing profession.
They are often sought after within their respective communities when a pregnant woman displays signs of going into labour; they are even called upon to render assistance if there is a freak accident next door.
Even within health care facilities they are usually the first professionals to render attention to patients. Essentially, the role of a nurse is important; this is undisputable.
This was particularly emphasized during the past week when International Nurses Day (IND) was celebrated. The day was commemorated under the theme: “Nurses: A force for Change – Improving Health Systems’ Resilience.”
In fact IND is celebrated every year on May 12 around the world and the theme is usually chosen by the International Council of Nurses (ICN).
ICN is a federation of more than 130 national nurses’ associations, which was founded in 1899, and was the first international organisation for health care professionals. It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The body has been celebrating IND since May 12, 1965. The day chosen to celebrate IND was deliberate, as May 12 was the birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale. Nightingale, who was born in 1820, is said to be the pioneer of modern nursing.
But this is debatable. I, however, was not of this view prior to last week’s commemoration.
I recalled hearing one of our Senior Editors questioning why so many people are convinced that Nightingale was indeed the character who pioneered nursing. He mentioned the name Mary Seacole, and credited her with being the actual pioneer of nursing.
I was enthused, but I didn’t let on. After all I was convinced that there was some plausible reason that Nightingale, for so many years, has been the name associated with nursing. I have seen quite a few nurses sworn into the profession and they are usually required to recite the Florence Nightingale Pledge – nothing relating to Seacole has ever been mentioned.
But with a little bit of reading later I discovered how the name Seacole got its connection to the nursing profession. And it is more controversial than I imagined.
Basically, Mary Seacole was a Jamaican woman, said to be of Scottish and African descent, who was born in 1805 and passed away in 1881. She lived in Britain and was credited with setting up a British hotel during the Crimean War.
The Crimean War took place from October 1853 to February 1856. It was a conflict which involved Russia against an alliance of Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire, Sardinia and the Austrian Empire. The Crimean War was fought mostly in the Crimean Peninsula.
Seacole’s hotel basically served as a venue for her to provide care to wounded soldiers. Her speciality reportedly was herbal medicine. After the war, some of the soldiers were reportedly so appreciative of her care that they helped raise money for her, since her caring efforts had caused her to become a destitute.
Her efforts, however, were not recognised until 1991 when she was posthumously awarded the Jamaica Order of Merit. She was later, in 2004 to be precise, voted the greatest black Briton.
But many of the accounts of her “nursing” contributions have been questioned. One report states that “It has been argued that she has been promoted at the expense of Florence Nightingale, and in an attempt to promote multiculturalism.”
It was reported too that “Dr. Sean Lang has stated that ‘she (Seacole) does not qualify as a mainstream figure in the history of nursing’.”
“Professor Lynn McDonald has written that ‘…support for Seacole has been used to attack Nightingale’s reputation as a pioneer in public health and nursing. There is opposition to the proposed siting of a statue of Mary Seacole at St Thomas’ Hospital, on the grounds that she had no connection with this institution, whereas Florence Nightingale did’.”
It has been highlighted too that “Lynn McDonald in the Times Literary Supplement asked ‘How did Mary Seacole come to be viewed as a pioneer of modern nursing?, comparing her unfavourably with Kofoworola Pratt who was the first black nurse in the NHS’.”
McDonald had further concluded “she deserves much credit for rising to the occasion, but her tea and lemonade did not save lives, pioneer nursing or advance health care.”
After my reading it was no clearer, than when I started, whether Seacole indeed had a legitimate claim of being a pioneer of nursing.
I have, moreover, concluded that the confusion surrounding Seacole’s contribution to the profession might have been the reason that Nightingale continues to hold the title of pioneer nurse.
But controversies aside, what has remained clear over the years is that nurses are supposed to be, without reservation, compassionate professionals.
Moreover, after keenly pondering over the Florence Nightingale Pledge it left me wondering ‘if the “nursies” of our society are really adhering?’ Those of us who have benefited from their care can easily decide, as can the nurses themselves.
The commemoration of the recent IND saw calls being made not only for nurses to improve themselves, but also for measures to be put in place to better cater to them in terms of remuneration and working conditions.
This is all well and good, and indeed should be addressed forthwith, but ‘are our nurses really functioning in a manner that emulates what a true nurse should be?’
Veteran United States-based nurse, Claudette Powell, during an interview with me earlier this year asserted that while remuneration is always an important factor “it cannot only be seen as a career to just make money.” The nursing pledge certainly makes this notion very clear.
The FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE PLEDGE: “I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly, to pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully. I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession, and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty will I endeavour to aid the physician in his work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.”
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