The history of nursing predates back to the mid-19th century. It is a rich tapestry woven with dedication, sacrifice, and political advocacy. This paper aims to provide an overview of nursing history and politics, with a particular focus on the feminist perspective on policy and politics. Throughout history, nursing has faced various challenges, including workforce shortages, low salaries, adverse working conditions, and the demands of post-war eras (Lewenson, 2013). This paper examines two pivotal periods; the 1930s and the 1940s, shedding light on the history of nursing and how the nursing profession responded to these challenges and whether those responses proved helpful in the long run.
The 1930s: A Decade of Crisis
Nursing mirrored traditional gender roles in the 1930s, limiting nurses' professional autonomy. However, nursing organizations such as the American Nurses Association (ANA) arose to advocate for better working conditions and education. The Great Depression worsened problems, emphasizing the need for policy changes. While nurses had little direct political involvement, some were activists, advocating feminist causes such as healthcare reform and workers' rights.
In the early 1930s, the nursing profession faced significant challenges due to economic hardships resulting from the Great Depression. There was an overproduction of nurses, fewer healthcare cases, and shorter private-duty nursing calls which saw many of them seek other occupations. In response, healthcare facilities began hiring auxiliary workers and unlicensed personnel who could perform certain tasks previously reserved for registered nurses. While this eased some of the immediate burden, it raised concerns about the quality of patient care.
Compared to the medical breakthroughs and technology available today, the history of the nursing profession has it that the 1930s had limited medical advancements. This meant that nurses had to rely on basic treatment methods and had fewer options to address complex medical conditions. They often had to provide care with limited resources, making their roles challenging (Lewenson, 2013). With time, more hospitals were constructed, there were more technological patient care requirements for the nurses and a reduction in the working hours. This necessitated an increase in the number of nurses and hence better healthcare.
By the mid-30s, there were reports of nursing shortages and it increased throughout later in the decade. Hospital administrators were not in the capacity to deal with the shortage making it a critical problem by the time World War II was approaching. Another consequence was increased workload which resulted in workplace burnout among a majority of the nurses (UPenn Nursing Science, 2013).
Additionally, there were limited educational opportunities for students who yearned to pursue the profession. Most of these learners received their training through hospital training rather than in higher institutions. This lack of a standardized education system made it difficult for nurses to advance in their careers or pursue higher positions within healthcare institutions. In response, academic standards for nurses rose from hospitals to universities.
The 1940s: The Impact of Wartime Needs
The outbreak of World War II in the 1940s created an unprecedented demand for healthcare services, leading to severe nursing shortages. This saw the use of subsidiary workers, discontent and insecurity in healthcare. At the time, there were no programs established for the preparation and pre-service of the nurses In addition, nurses were required to take on expanded roles and responsibilities during wartime due to the scarcity of doctors and healthcare professionals. They often performed duties beyond their traditional scope of practice, including surgical assistance, anesthesia administration, and even direct combat nursing on the front lines. To address this, the Bolton Act of 1943 established the Cadet Nurse Corps, providing funding for nursing education in exchange for a commitment to serve in the war effort. This initiative not only helped address the shortage but also empowered women to take on crucial healthcare during the war (Matthews, 2012).
The urgency of wartime needs prompted significant advancements in medical technology. In response, nurses were required to adapt to and utilize new technologies, such as improved surgical techniques, blood transfusions, antibiotics, and the administration of specialized medications like penicillin, to effectively provide care to injured soldiers.
Overall, the impact of wartime needs in the 1940s greatly transformed professional nursing not only the american healthcare system but globally. Nurses played a vital role in providing care to wounded soldiers and adapting to the challenges presented by the war (Matthews, 2012). Their contributions during this period significantly influenced the development of nursing practice and paved the way for advancements in the field.
Summing up, the history of nursing has been shaped by a dynamic interplay of challenges and responses. In the 1930s and 1940s, the profession grappled with workforce shortages and economic hardships. While some responses, such as hiring auxiliary workers and the Cadet Nurse Corps, provided temporary relief, long-term solutions emerged in the post-World War II period. Initiatives like the Hill-Burton Act, the ANA Economic Security Program, and the unionization of nurses helped pave the way for improved working conditions and professional recognition. These historical developments have left a lasting impact on the nursing profession, bringing it to where it stands today, as a vital force in healthcare delivery.
Lewenson, S. (2013). A Historical Perspective on Policy, Politics and Nursing. In D. Mason, J. Leavitt, & M. Chaffee Eds. (2012). Policy and Politics in Nursing and Health Care (pp. 12-18). St.Louis: Elsevier.
Matthews, J. (2012). Role of professional organizations in advocating for the nursing profession. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 17(1).
UPenn Nursing Science. (2013). American Nursing: An introduction to the past. UPenn Nursing Science.