4 Nursing Role Models Who Changed Nursing Forever
Four nursing role models who shaped the future of this noble profession are Florence Nightingale, Dorothea Dix, Linda Richards and Mary Breckinridge. These leaders displayed several essential qualities of a nurse that you can learn from as you aspire to enter a nursing career.
Many landmark innovations and inventions in the medical field have been born from the minds of outstanding nurses. We want to highlight the amazing lives and brilliant minds of just a few of medical history’s greatest nursing pioneers.
If you look up to these role models in nursing, it’s time to make your own impact through your nursing career. At CSP Global, you can earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in as few as 16 months. Our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program in Portland, Oregon, and St. Paul, Minnesota, is committed to molding our graduates into compassionate and competent nurses who make a difference in their patients’ lives.
Read on to see how four nursing role models used their innovative thinking to positively transform the outlook of healthcare.
Florence Nightingale || Sanitation
If there is one nursing role model you should know before starting your ABSN journey at CSP Global, it’s Florence Nightingale. Nightingale was the first nurse to formalize the profession by offering training for England’s student nurses. She trained 38 nursing students in battlefield care and brought them to the front lines of the Crimean War in 1894, where she made her breakthrough.
The dominating medical theory of infection at the time assumed bad smells or stagnant air spread diseases. The germ theory of disease was less than a decade old, but Nightingale was sure that patient deaths were related to the dirty equipment and unsanitary beds the soldiers were laying in.
She and her nurses in training set about reforming the hospital with a standard sanitization process so patients received clean equipment and bedding. As a result, patient mortality dropped to new lows for a battlefield hospital, from 42% to 2%. Her sanitation methods proved to be equally effective back home in England, ushering a new era of reduced infection and death in hospitals all over the world. She later used this experience to open the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in London and become a nurse educator.
Perhaps her greatest contribution to medical history is her writings, which Nightingale intentionally wrote in simple English so her medical knowledge could be available to anyone with basic literacy. No matter the era, all nurses should read Nightingale’s landmark book, Notes on Nursing, which contains timeless wisdom on managing patient care, lighting, bedding and many other practical and relevant skills.
Timeline of Nightingale’s Life
- 1820: Born May 12.
- 1850: Observes the care of the sick and ailing at a Lutheran encampment in Germany and feels a calling from God to do the same work.
- 1853: Becomes superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street, London, a position she held until October 1854.
- 1854: Travels to front lines of Crimean War with 38 student nurses.
- 1855: Within a year, after Nightingale pleads for aid from the British government through the newspapers, the UK sends a team to improve frontline conditions. Mortality drops from 42% to 2%.
- 1859: Nightingale writes Notes on Nursing, a groundbreaking collection of writings on nursing.
- 1883: Nightingale receives the Royal Red Cross by Queen Victoria.
- 1904: She is appointed a Lady of Grace of the Order of St John (LGStJ).
- 1907: Becomes the first woman to receive the Order of Merit.
- 1908: Given the Honorary Freedom of the City of London.
- 1910: Dies at age 90.
Dorothea Dix || Mental Health
One of CSP Global’s core nursing education philosophies is holistic care for each patient’s body, mind and spirit. A patient’s mental health can have a profound effect on their physical health, especially with sleep quality and healing time. However, this is a relatively new concept in the United States, a struggle Dorothea Dix’s work resolved. After visiting the UK in the mid-19th century, Dix realized that America’s health care system did not provide adequate care for mentally ill patients. Rather, the solution at the time was often to lock up those affected with mental health conditions.
While in Europe for treatment of her own health challenges, Dix observed how Britain was transforming mental health care. Dix found that Britain was reforming its mental health facilities, moving them away from jail-like conditions to an inpatient care facility with gardens and functional therapies.
She brought this reform back to the U.S., where she founded the North Carolina State Medical Society in 1849 to manage the care of the state’s mentally ill. Without this change, patients with mental illness in America may have continued to be wards of the penal system.
Now, nurses can use their degree to pursue a rewarding career in mental health nursing, helping those with mental health issues rediscover their abilities, their value and get back to living a meaningful life.
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Timeline of Dix’s Life
- 1802: Born April 4.
- 1840: Travels to Europe, observes the socio-political reforms taking place in British society and decides to create the same change in the U.S.
- 1840–1841: Returns to the U.S. and begins performing inspections of the facilities available to the mentally ill, writing reports of the inhumane conditions and presenting them to state legislatures in various states. This led to sweeping changes to these institutions. She also performed similar work in other nations.
- 1849: Founded the North Carolina State Medical Society to care for mentally ill patients.
- 1865: Named Superintendent of Army Nurses by the Union Army during the Civil War.
- 1869: After the war, Dix returns to surveying hospitals for the mentally ill.
- 1881: The New Jersey State Legislature created a private suite for Dix, and she lived there until her death in 1887.
Linda Richards || Medical Record Keeping
Another central element of your CSP Global ABSN education, and the foundation of hospital care, is learning to document your patient’s history, allergies, procedures and medications. It’s hard to imagine health care’s existence without this essential documentation, but it wouldn’t exist without the solution nurse Linda Richards created.
Not all nursing pioneers make their mark in bedside care as Florence Nightingale did. After working in a few different hospitals, Richards realized the American health care system had a critical Achilles heel: there was no centralized record keeping at any hospital. Aside from notes doctors took for their own benefit, patients would essentially come in and receive “blind” treatment every time they entered the hospital, with no charting of previous hospital visits or procedures. Richards knew that this disjointed — or, often, non-existent — record-keeping system was the reason physicians couldn’t seem to help patients with chronic illnesses, and almost certainly contributed to patient mortality.
Richards’ analytical mind, an essential element for every great nurse, helped reinvent the records division at hospitals across the U.S. and then in the United Kingdom. She created a tracking system for diseases, allergies and past procedures so healthcare providers could see a long view of their patients’ histories, thus improving patient care.
Because of her advances, patient mortality dropped across both nations, and in 1994, the National Women’s Hall of Fame inducted her for her contribution to medicine.
Timeline of Linda Richards’ Life
- 1841: Born July 27.
- 1870: Moves to Boston to pursue nursing.
- 1873: Moves to New York and is hired as Night Supervisor for Bellevue Hospital, where she creates revolutionary record keeping system.
- 1874: Returns to Boston, becomes superintendent of the Boston Training School for nurses, brings school to top 10 nursing training institutions in the nation.
- 1877: Travels to England for 7-month intensive training under Florence Nightingale.
- 1885: Establishes Japan’s first nursing school in Kyoto.
- 1885–1911: Establishes nursing schools across the United States before retiring in 1911.
Mary Breckinridge || Rural Maternal Nursing
First and foremost, CSP Global’s ABSN students aim to serve their community and the world. We want our students to use their education to make the world a better place. Sometimes you’ll find that a small intervention can make a world of difference, as one nurse midwife discovered at the turn of the 20th Century.
Breckenridge was born in Memphis to a prominent family, enjoying all the spoils of a comfortable life, such as private education in Switzerland and frequent global travel. But her parents’ attempt to set Mary up for a similar life fell apart after her first husband’s and child’s deaths, the infidelity of her second husband and a divorce. So, Mary turned to nursing school to find a new purpose in her life.
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She traveled to France as a volunteer nurse following the first world war. During her time in Europe, she met other nurses who had midwife training and helped lower maternal death during childbirth, especially in rural areas. Breckinridge knew that a similar training had the potential to lower rural Appalachia’s huge maternal death rates, especially in places where there was no formal medical help available.
After receiving midwife training in England (which was unavailable stateside), she returned to the U.S. and founded the Kentucky Committee for Mothers and Babies, which later became the Frontier Nursing Service. Based out of a large log cabin in rural Wendover, Kentucky, Mary and her midwives rode on horseback across the rough mountainous terrain, in any season and weather, to help Appalachian mothers safely deliver babies in desperately poor and squalid conditions. The American Journal of Medicine, in a 1934 article about infant and maternal mortality, highlighted the staggering efficacy of Breckinridge’s program thusly:
The lives of mothers and children in a so-called backward country area can be saved by those who know and are willing to lead, is nowhere better demonstrated than by the work of the nurses of the Frontier Nursing Service in the Appalachian Mountains under the inspiring direction of Mrs. Mary Breckinridge. These mountain women have been helped to have their babies safely in a terrain without roads and amid primitive conditions. Similar organized effort would save women and infants now being lost in many rural areas much less difficult to traverse.
Timeline of Mary Breckinridge’s Life
- 1881: Born February 17.
- 1920: Joins American Committee for Devastated France and travels to France.
- 1924: Breckinridge receives midwife training in England.
- 1925, May: Mary returns to the U.S. and founds Frontier Nursing Service.
- 1925, September: The Frontier Nursing Service delivers its first baby.
- 1925–1965: Oversees rural deliveries and the training of rural midwives until her death on May 16, 1965.
A Common Nursing Mission
Though these stories come from different eras and have vastly different endings, each of these nurses shared a common goal of improving the lives of as many patients as they could, often one patient at a time.
It just so happens that the great nurses are the ones who fill the gaps in the health care system and focus on their mission of treating patients. Florence Nightingale spent her days on the battlefield saving lives with better sanitation. Dorthea Dix offered aid to the mentally ill through proper housing, socialization and integration into society.
Linda Richards’ innovation saved potentially millions of lives during her career, all because she was handy with a file folder and a spreadsheet. When it became obvious to Mary Breckinridge that education and access could save lives, she got to work and made that possible.
Skills and Qualities of the Best Nurses
Now that you see how these inspirational nurses shaped patient care, it’s only natural to want to also make a positive impact in your nursing career. When looking back on the best nurses, there are many traits of a nurse that they share. Work to emulate these qualities of a nurse when caring for patients, and you’ll be well on your way to make a real difference through your career.
- Passion: The best nurses are passionate about helping others and caring for their community.
- Pragmatism: The best nurses achieve their tasks with efficiency and accountability.
- Attention to Detail: The best nurses pay attention to the small details and notice changes in their patient’s condition.
- Communication: The best nurses are excellent communicators with patients, families and coworkers.
- Teamwork: The best nurses work well with others, as healthcare is a collaborative team-focused environment.
Begin Your Nursing Path at CSP Global!
Nursing is a career path for those powered by passion and driven to do, and you might be the next of the nursing role models armed with these integral nursing skills. With CSP Global, it’s possible to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree in as few as 16 months. The Accelerated BSN program, located in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon, offers three start dates per year in each location.
Wondering how to become a nurse? Follow these five steps to earn your BSN and become an RN fast.
The curriculum consists of a combination of online classes, skills labs and clinical learning experiences. This ensures you’ll be prepared to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination upon graduation from the program.
If you’re the kind of person who isn’t afraid to jump in, think hard, and work harder for the greater good, learn more about the ABSN program at CSP Global by contacting an admissions counselor today.