The public image of nursing Simone Holguin


Prior to the 20th century, basically anyone could consider themself a nurse. There was no defining characteristic other than providing care to an individual that separated a nurse from an individual who carried out “nursing work”. This deeply affected the way nursing could be seen by the public. In order to “legitimize the profession to the public, limit the number of people who hired out as nurses, raise the quality of professional nurses, and improve education standards in schools of nursing”, nurse leaders decided to create registration laws that legally separated nurses as an actual profession (Dingwall 1988). This act gave nurses a license and a name; Registered professional nurse or RN for short. Not only did this standardize the criteria for nurses, it increased quality of care and professionalized the nursing occupation. No one at this time could have possibly predicated the true importance of nurses and their role in the healthcare field.

The mother of modern nursing

Florence Nightingale was notably one of the most influential women in nursing. She is known to this day as “The Mother of Nursing”. Her compassion and dedication to those in need during the war in Great Britain helped revolutionize and standardize the practices of nursing (The History of Nursing as a Profession, 2017). She valued tasks that are proven vital to the standards of care today such as hygiene around the workplace and checking on patients hourly. The death rate in the hospital she worked at decreased their death rate by two thirds while she was present. After her return from helping in the war, she wrote and published a book that would forever highlight important matters in nursing. "Notes on Nursing: What it is, and What it is not", included the importance of being sanitary and the need for putting the patients comfort before science. "Notes on Nursing" established the nurse's unique body of knowledge that is practiced to this day. In addition to her book, she also founded the first training school for nurses located in London. Nursing schools that were established shortly after incorporated her beliefs. Any and every nursing student or professional in this day and age is aware of the impact that Florence Nightingale made in the Nursing community and continues her legacy.

"The amount of relief and comfort experienced by the sick after the skin has been carefully washed and dried, is one of the commonest observations made at a sick bed." – Florence Nightingale

A Jesuit education and Nursing

“Cura Personalis”, or care of the entire person is deeply engrained in the College of Professional Studies here at the University of Scranton. As a college dedicated to being “women and men” for others, this phrase serves as a model for what our professions should be based on. The college is a commitment to service and nursing could not be more exemplary of this. Cura Personalis is a latin term that is typically heard at Jesuit institutions such as The University of Scranton. Nursing is a profession that incorporates more than science and mechanics. Theology is strongly involved in the practice. Jesuit institutions connect faith into our specialized curriculum, making us nurses with strong values that improve our quality of care. The nursing profession already involves care of the person, but Jesuit beliefs enforce "care of the entire person" no matter what differences. This requires care of the mind, body, and spirit, rather than just their illness (Cura Personalis 2015).

"Nursing is the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities; prevention of illness and injury; alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human responses; and advocacy in health care for individuals, families, communities, and populations." -- American Nurses Association

At Jesuit colleges, the curriculum here incorporates humanities. Humanities are used for the purpose of expanding our horizons and enhancing our thinking when it comes to our certain field. Healthcare professionals, such as nurses come face to face with difficult situations every day in the workplace. The humanities such as art, literature, music, and history teach us lessons far beyond what the classroom can teach us in regard to humans and suffering. These classes provide an insight into what being human is all about and therefore improving our preparation as RN's. There is an emotional and spiritual component to humanities and this ties into the phrase "Cura Personalis". By educating us in this manner, we are able to comprehend the care given to the patient on a deeper and more emotional level. It opens our minds and guides us in thinking further when faced with situations that test our judgment. Humanities help us open our minds past the superficial level of care and is a reminder that everyone suffers and that nurses decided to join the health professional field to care for others and provide support no matter what the circumstance. At Jesuit universities, we are taught how faith carries over into practice and every individual has a unique set of needs and qualities.

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In addition to theology, philosophy is the other valued subject in a Jesuit education. As mentioned earlier, humanities not only connect us to the patient on a spiritual level, but also on an intellectual level. Ethical problems can always be found in the arts. We learn from these examples and are indirectly tuning into our conscience to prepare for difficult ethical problems in the workplace of our own. Our ethical principles go a long way as healthcare professionals providing care to people from all walks of life. Our Jesuit education gives us a background in culture and ethics that allow us to respond intelligently and appropriately when faced with dilemmas that tap into our moral values. Ethical principles are not just taught at Jesuit institutions; they are essential to the nursing profession itself. Nursing is considered one of the most ethical professionals due to the extent of responsibility as a caregiver and advocate for the patient. In order to maintain the integrity of the nursing profession, nurses must oblige by a set of rules in the “Code of Ethics for Nurses” made up by the American Nurses Association. The code of ethics helps guide nurses in handling conflicting situations that put them under pressure and ultimately affect the outcome of the patient. Because of the frequent moral pressures nurses face while working, this serves as a manual for any ethical dilemmas that a nurse may have difficulty figuring out the next step to. Nurses go far beyond taking care of the person; they have such weight on their shoulders in the hospital that they need to refer to a code of ethics for the frequency of questionable ethics in their practice (Code of ethics for nurses with interpretive statements, 2015).

"The ethical tradition of nursing is self-reflective, enduring, and distinctive. A code of ethics for the nursing profession makes explicit the primary obligations, values, and ideals of the profession. In fact, it informs every aspect of the nurse's life" -Code of Ethics for Nurses

Following the Code of Ethics for Nurses, ethics can be seen furthermore in the Nightingale Pledge. This oath, commonly used at graduations and pinning ceremonies is much like the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors. The Nightingale Pledge stands for the promotion of ethical practices of nurses. This oath serves as a tribute to Florence Nightingale and a reminder to nurse that we have important values and principles essential to the delivery of quality care and standards (The Future of the Nightingale Pledge, 2017).

  • "I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly, to pass my life in purity and to practise my profession faithfully. I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession, and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping, and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty will I endeavour to aid the physician in his work, and as a 'missioner of health' I will dedicate myself to devoted service to human welfare."

fact vs. fiction

It is clear even today that nurses do not receive the credit that they deserve. This is most clearly exemplified in media. Nurses are still most often sexualized in TV shows, costumes, etc. which leads to a poor stigma of the nursing profession. It is an innocent misconception that plays off as harmless, when in fact it is not at all harmless to the public image of nurses.

By sexualizing and downplaying the hard work of nurses, The strives that have been made over the course of centuries and decades are completely contradicted. Rather than educating the public, the media falsifies the integrity and dignity of the nursing profession. The hard work and dedication that nurses put into their profession is undermined and suddenly we are no longer a respected, ethical, and professional career. Theology and philosophy are important to the field of nursing. These subjects show the depth of nursing that goes far beyond simply nursing an individual back to health; and yet with the stigmatization of nurses being less educated and used for sex in the workplace, the public suddenly has no idea how much heavy lifting nurses do as part of the healthcare team.

Nurses are often seen as subordinates to doctors when in fact, doctors and nurses collaborate together along with the rest of the healthcare professionals involved in the patients plan of care. This is one of the biggest misconceptions that the public has the hardest time understanding. Every healthcare profession works interprofessionally to improve the outcome of the patient. There is no such thing as a hierarchy and by demonstrating a condescending attitude towards nurses, weakens the collaborative team and thus the patients quality of care. The goal of the healthcare team is to improve the outcome of the patient as best as possible and by educating the public that nurses are not as smart as doctors, weakens the profession as a whole.

Although there are many negative depictions of nurses out in the media, there are positive and accurate displays of nursing out there as well. The film "Wit" is an positive insight into what nursing is really about. The nurse Suzie, really shows she cares for Vivian; a woman diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. Unlike the doctors who view Vivian as a test subject for a new chemo regimen, Suzie takes care of Vivian in a way that is nurturing and considerate of her emotional and spiritual state. This proves itself as an example of Cura Personalis. Suzie takes the time to talk to her, discuss her fears, and distract her from her prognosis. Instead of simply keeping her comfortable and carrying out doctors orders, she does more to provide care to the entire person. She even faces an ethical dilemma when the doctors attempt to revive Vivian. Suzie had to advocate for her and tell the crash team to stop and respect her wishes. Suzie is a prime example of a positive depiction of nursing and it more accurate and beneficial to the education of the public.

effects on nurses

Overall, nursing is a thriving, dedicated, and compassionate profession that goes beyond helping the sick get back to good health. Jesuit education incorporates theology and philosophy into nursing practice although it is already implemented regardless. Nurses face ethical dilemmas that require a framework of principles to help guide them in making decisions that are best for the patient. Furthermore, faith ties into nursing when caring for the whole person. The profession has come a long way and should get the recognition it deserves. It is made up of much more than the media makes it out to be. By continuing to depict nurses in a false light, the public remains unaware of truth behind nursing and the commitment and passion it takes to be a care provider, advocate, educator, and much more.


Code of ethics for nurses with interpretive statements. (2015). Silver Spring, MD: ANA, American Nurses Association.

Cura Personalis. (2015, April 30). Retrieved May 8, 2017, from

Dingwall, R., Rafferty, A. M., & Webster, C. (1988). An Introduction to the Social History of Nursing (1). London, US: Routledge.

Humanities Enrich Physician Training. (n.d.). Retrieved May 1, 2017, from

The Future of the Nightingale Pledge. Retrieved May 6, 2017, from

The History of Nursing as a Profession. (n.d.). Retrieved May 7, 2017, from

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