On Duty: Power, Politics, and the History of Nursing in New Jersey

On Duty: Power, Politics, and the History of Nursing in New Jersey

On Duty: Power, Politics, and the History of Nursing in New Jersey

On Duty: Power, Politics, and the History of Nursing in New Jersey


In 1886, Newark City Hospital opened a training school for nurses in New Jersey. With the dawn of a new century women began to demand rights that had been denied them, and nurses too demanded changes in health care and higher education. For the first time, On Duty offers a highly readable account of the struggle for professional autonomy by New Jersey nurses and reveals how their political and legislative battles mirrored the struggle of women throughout the country to redefine their roles in society.


On Wednesday, July 11, 2007, my undergraduate nursing students and I conducted a health fair at the Camden Community Health Center. Our focus: the illnesses that most commonly plague city residents—hypertension, obesity, diabetes mellitus, anemia, and high cholesterol. Many people were screened that day. Some were employed but uninsured; others were unemployed without health insurance. Undocumented migrant workers looked to us to meet their health needs.

Forty years earlier, I was preparing to enter my senior year in high school, anxious to apply to Rutgers University in Newark as a first-year student in the Bachelor of Science program in nursing. As I mailed my application, hoping for early acceptance to the College of Nursing, the city of Newark was convulsing, seething in a rage of racial unrest that escalated into violence, with twenty-six people dead at the end of a six-day war. Newark leaders called it an insurrection rather than a riot. Frustration with inequality, prejudice, poor housing, inadequate health care, unemployment, apathy, compliance—and a dearth of educational opportunities—exploded into passion, forcing a country to see the invisible, to face reality.

As I wrote prescriptions for diuretics, antihypertensives, and antibiotics for people screened during our health fair, I did so with humility. As an advanced practice nurse, I was able to help. My profession has given me tools with which I can make a difference. As inner-city residents, however, my Camden patients have not made comparable advances since the Newark insurrection forty years ago. They are stalled in their pursuits. Their fates and mine are inextricably bound together.

This book maps the evolution of nursing in New Jersey, shaped by environmental context and the profession’s values, developed within the larger framework of our culture’s philosophy. It is a nonteleological history, an exploration of . . .

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