Nurture Our Nightingales

Think about this: It was probably a nurse who first opened your eyes when you were born; it will probably be a nurse who will close your eyes when you die. That’s because more than 80% of us will die in the cold confines of a hospital, instead of in our homes, writes the celebrated Dr. Atul Gawande in his 2014 bestseller, “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End”.

What about the rapid rise of AI? It may impact physicians but can’t dent the importance of nurses. The Father of Modern Medicine, William Osler, predicted the importance of nurses 120 years ago: “The trained nurse has become one of the greatest blessings of humanity, taking a place beside the physician and the priest.” Dr. Osler, a founder of Johns Hopkins Hospital, created the first residency program for specialty training and was the first to push medical students out of classrooms for bedside clinical training.

The concern? Although nurses play a hypercritical role in healthcare, about 60 nurses get assaulted every day in the US alone, reports a study by Press Ganey. “Nurses take an oath to do no harm and many put their own safety and health at risk to help a patient,” says Press Ganey’s Chief Nursing Officer Jeff Doucette. “The numbers are likely higher, as assaults go under-reported by healthcare professionals, and nurses in particular.”

The discrimination is worse against male nurses. “Is a male nurse a ‘murse’?” wonders Tang Yang Yew, a male nurse at Singapore’s Alexandra Hospital. “We’re still perceived differently compared to our female colleagues. I hope ‘murses’ will be more accepted by the public and nursing can be seen as a viable, even masculine career path for men.”

Why discuss nursing now? Because World Nursing Day falls on the birthday of Florence Nightingale. The Mother of Modern Nursing was born in Florence, Italy, on May 12, 1820. Her solutions were simple but revolutionary: She tried to provide a clean environment, rudimentary medical equipment, boiled water, and fruits for the wounded. The mortality rate dropped from 60% to 2.2%.

Incidentally, Singapore celebrates Nurses’ Day on August 1. That day in 1885, French nuns from the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) began nursing duties in the General Hospital at Sepoy Lines in Outram. The first course for Asian midwives began in 1910; formal training courses for student nurses in hospitals started in 1916.

Shouldn’t every day be nurses’ day? That’s because “constant attention by a good nurse may be just as important as a major operation by a surgeon,” wrote the Second Secretary-General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjöld. Donna Wilk Cardillo, America’s “Inspiration Nurse”, puts it aptly: “Nursing is the finest art, the most diverse, the most challenging, the most rewarding,” she says. “Nurses are the heart of healthcare.”