When Did Nursing Begin?

by Jennifer Bradford on June 8, 2009

Nurses all over the world work countless hours caring for the sick and wounded, and have done so for years. Though Monastic nuns and prostitutes had performed the duties we commonly associate with nursing since the Middle Ages, many people consider Florence Nightingale the founder of modern nursing. Her contributions to medicine and statistics tremendously changed the way the world looked at nursing, a career once thought to be a “man’s job.”

During the Crimean War in 1854, Nightingale was sent to a camp in Turkey where she and her team of 38 volunteers immediately began cleaning and organizing the hospital equipment. This was one of the first steps toward better healthcare systems providing help to everyone who needed it.

The work Nightingale performed with others led to dramatic changes in the Army hospitals and sparked an overwhelming interest in the field of nursing. The statistical information she included in the detailed report composed for the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army had much to do with her success in further developing the field.

Florence Nightingale photo via public domain

When nursing first began, interested candidates received their education from hospitals, where they often worked 12 hour days, seven days a week. During this time, trainees performed tasks such as cleaning, dusting, and doing the dishes. After two to three years, they were given more responsibilities, such as sterilizing hospital equipment and cleaning the operating rooms.

When nurses graduated, many of them moved on to work as private nurses in residences—for pay considered something comparable to today’s minimum wage. As private nurses, they tended wounds, bathed, and administered medication to their patients. As the field of nursing continued to grow, hospitals began to improve their quality standards, evolving from a place where the poor received care into a place suitable for child birth and general care.

At the dawn of World War II, many well trained nurses were sent to assist with the war efforts, taking care of wounded and sick soldiers. The time spent assisting the military proved beneficial to them as many returned from the war with advanced knowledge and specialty training, in areas such as pharmaceuticals and psychiatry.

This prompted governmental response and pumped millions of dollars into healthcare. As science and technology continued to advance alongside the pharmaceutical industry, there was increasing demand for highly trained and skilled nurses. Soon, more opportunity for advancement surfaced, allowing for nurses to choose a specialty area and even move into surgical environments. Along with these advancements came more responsibility for direct patient care.

A shortage of nurses in the 1980s prompted the growth of traveling nurses. Nurses would travel throughout the country, working at various hospitals wherever they were needed most. Even after the shortage was considered to be over, many nurses still choose to travel.

Today, the field of nursing would make Nightingale proud. The field is highly respected and still experiencing tremendous levels of growth. Men and women alike enjoy the career. Over 200 specialty areas exist in nursing, each now guided by federal, state, and local regulations to protect both nurses and their patients.


{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff 07.31.09 at 8:59 am

Interesting, kind of strang to think of time before good healthcare. Scary actually. Thanks for the history lesson.


Maryam M. Mckeon 10.16.09 at 5:07 am

Great history =) I learned alot..


sharita 04.08.10 at 2:34 pm

where did nursing started at?


Anthony Rollison 08.03.10 at 12:56 pm

This artical has answered more questions for me than most other sites or articals. I am thankful to Jennifer Bradford for her work in writing this artical for others to see and learn from.


Anthony Rollison 08.03.10 at 1:00 pm

Sharita, I have asked the same thing,, but as I uinderstand it,, the truth is Nursing has been here as long as life it’s self,, begining with adam and eve. Adam was eve’s midwife when she delivered the first child. although most women or men were refered to as midwives they were actually the equivilent of todays nurses.( in a manner of speaking)


Elenita Thomas 02.03.11 at 7:06 am

I like this article but how can I reference?any idea?


laurennnnnnnnn 02.09.11 at 10:28 am



nichole 03.28.11 at 5:20 pm

its helped alot im only in highschool. but im trying to figure out what i want to do and nurseing was one of my first decisions. im planning on going to votech for nursing and i just want to see what i was gettng myself into. but it seems like a good job to me and im gonna fallow in my moms footsteps


delored 03.30.11 at 9:59 am

When did nursing begin


Ashton 10.06.11 at 4:33 pm

this was sooo helpful for a research paper i had to do! awesome website 🙂


Solimar Santana 12.12.11 at 10:38 am

WOW! Amazing article this helped me out tremendously! Congrats Mrs. Bradford


Lisa 02.10.12 at 1:12 pm

How would I cite this website???


sapi 05.04.12 at 8:41 pm

When did nursing begin?


neha dubey 05.11.12 at 9:23 pm

i really thankful to florence nightangle,she gives to us a path for future….


Tshego 01.22.13 at 6:23 am

I wish god can bless me until I become a sister in nursing I like n love the article


Ludy 03.18.13 at 8:57 pm

Hi, this is a very informative article can you please tell me which book will I find this nursing history.
Thank you


Hazel 04.30.13 at 9:23 pm

I hate to put a damper on this article, which I acknowledge is interesting reading, but the comment at the end about Florence Nightingale being proud of how nursing is today is probably not totally correct as it was due to her disapproval of men as nurses that prevented males from being formally trained, I can only hope that she would see things differently if she could observe nursing today and be prepared to acknowledge that gender is not which makes someone a good and capable nurse, sadly I have come across many a female nurse who should not be in the profession. I also wonder if FN would actually be a bit uneasy at the fact the nurses are no longer the “hand maidens” of the doctors and that our education these days has way out stripped the education of nurses even 30 years ago, lets hope she would be impressed at the knowledge and ability of today’s nurses and be thankful that they are no longer under the old mantra of “Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die”


jeff\ 02.29.16 at 6:34 pm



Rico 03.11.16 at 5:09 am

Hello Ms. Bradford,

Could you please tell me where/when nursing was considered a “man’s job”, with a reference would be incredibly helpful with a paper I have to write for first year of nursing course?



Joseph 03.07.17 at 12:58 am

Read “The man is a nurse”


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