Academic journal article Nursing and Health Care Perspectives

Coming Full Circle with the Nightingale Legacy

Academic journal article Nursing and Health Care Perspectives

Coming Full Circle with the Nightingale Legacy

Article excerpt

As society has evolved from an industrial to an information age, so too has nursing. With the revolution of the information age, nursing will complete the process of transforming the way society in general and we as nurses ourselves view and portray nurses, from "doers who happen to think" to "thinkers who also do." Our knowledge work will become visible and valued.

When this transformation is achieved, we will have come full circle from Florence Nightingale's legacy. I refer not to Nightingale's well-known publication Notes on Nursing, but, rather, to a more obscure and earlier monograph entitled Cassandra (1), which has been described as "a statement of protest against the waste of women's energies and talents" (2, p. 13). In this monograph, Nightingale railed against a society that oppressed the expression of women's passion, intellect, and moral activity. Notes on Nursing can be viewed as a continuation of her work to advance the cause of women. In fact, it probably should be viewed in that perspective, rather than as a treatise to advance a specialty practice field called "nursing."

Nightingale explained that Notes on Nursing was "meant simply to give hints for thought to women who have personal charge of the health of others. Every woman," she stated, "has, at one time or another of her life, charge of the personal health of somebody,...in other words every woman is a nurse .... It is recognized as the knowledge everyone ought to have" (3, p. 3). By not claiming the knowledge she identified as a specialized body of knowledge held by a select few, Nightingale was, in fact, making visible and empowering the women of her generation to claim their voices and be recognized for the intellect embedded in their socially sanctioned work.

One and a half centuries later, we are again engaged in comparable striving for nursing. During the intervening decades, nursing has made visible its passion and moral activity; however, we have, to some extent, colluded in the obfuscation of the knowledge work -- the intellect -- of nursing. Early in the 20th century, nurses were taught that as a matter of ethical principle, "the nurse should consider herself in her relations with the patient as the eyes, ears and hands of the physician -- but she should not try to be also his brain" (4, p. 352). While, I believe, we never strove to be the "mind of the physician" and have attempted merely to affirm the mind, or intellect, of nursing, we have, nonetheless, implicitly and explicitly engaged in behavior designed to cloak our knowledge work. …

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