The practice of nursing has overcome many challenges on its path to becoming a respected profession. A field dominated by women, nurses often found themselves bound by traditional gender roles and seen as inexpensive healthcare workers. Over the years, a profound change in society, technological advances and the healthcare environment has transformed the field of nursing — and thus nursing education — from a skill acquired on the battlefield to an occupation learned both in the classroom and at the bedside. Here is a brief history of some of the major events that helped shape nursing education into what it is today.
1872 – The first nursing school, the New England Hospital for Women, emerged in the United States. During this time, hospital-based training programs focused on service for the hospital first, nursing education second.
1873 – Linda Richards became the first nurse trainee to graduate from the New England Hospital for Women program after just one year. She trained under the Florence Nightingale model, which involved evidence-based practice and systematic data collection as part of patient care.
1893 – The American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nurses (renamed the National League for Nursing Education in 1912) became the first professional nursing organization. Its purpose was to establish and maintain a universal standard of training for nursing.
1903 – North Carolina passed the first permissive licensure legislation, requiring nurses seeking the designation “registered nurse” to complete the requirements determined by the state, including passing a standard examination known as the State Boards.
1911 – Rhode Island doll manufacturer M.J. Chase Co. sent the first healthcare manikin to Hartford Hospital. Modeled and named after her creator, Martha Jenks Chase, the life-size Mrs. Chase doll featured stitched knees, hips, elbows and shoulders. She later acquired an arm injection port and internal reservoir.
1917 – The National League for Nursing Education released the first Standard Curriculum for Schools of Nursing.
1923 – The Goldmark Report concluded the quality of existing nursing programs was inadequate and recommended nursing schools have separate governing boards and university educated faculty. That same year, the Yale School of Nursing became the first autonomous school of nursing with its own dean, faculty, budget and degree. For the first time, education took precedence over service to a hospital, with training based on an educational plan rather than on service needs.
1952 – The National League of Nursing Education combined with the National Organization for Public Health Nursing and the Association for Collegiate Schools of Nursing. Under its new name, the National League for Nursing assumed responsibility for the accreditation of nursing schools in the United States.
1964 – The Nurse Training Act moved to phase out hospital schools and increase the number of baccalaureate nurses by requiring that all nursing education should take place in institutions of higher education. Graduate studies and advanced practice programs were also initiated.
1970-1980 – A new generation of high-fidelity simulators with specialized features started to replace Mrs. Chase dolls and became a mainstay in nursing classrooms.
1986 – One of the first healthcare educational simulations, Surgeon, simulated operating on an aortic aneurysm. Computer Gaming World reported Surgeon was “easily the most realistic depiction of surgery ever available for a microcomputer.”
Today – Nursing education continues to evolve with new technology and standards to create the best possible patient care and further the advancement of nursing as a profession.