Ancient history of nursing

Written by michelle fortunato
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Ancient history of nursing
Gods and goddesses were thought to influence healing in ancient Rome and Greece. (colosseum, Rome image by maya from Fotolia.com)

Civilisations throughout history viewed nursing in diverse ways. In ancient times, nursing care was practised within families and not considered a vocation in some cultures. While Roman women of nobility tended to the sick, gods and goddesses were deemed to influence healing in Rome and Greece. Hired nurses assisted in childbirth in ancient Egypt.

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Early Nursing

In ancient times, caring for the infirm sometimes fell on slaves, destitute women or prostitutes. Christianity brought a measured amount of respect to females in the role of nursing in the first century, with the Order of the Deaconesses providing some of the earliest care. However, in some parts of the world men were considered to be more capable than women in caring for the sick.

Male Nurses

The first nursing school, established around 250 B.C. in India, allowed no women in attendance. Females were thought to be less pure than males, so men were the main caregivers, helping patients to walk, massaging their limbs, bathing, cooking, feeding and making the beds. In Arab cultures, women were regarded as incapable of performing nursing duties. At the time of the Crusades, military men cared for ailing and wounded soldiers.

Medieval Times

Male organisations formed in medieval times were exclusively for patient care. In the third century, the Parabolani of Rome tended to Egyptians in Alexandria who were afflicted with the great plague. Men dominated this small group of Christians and jeopardised their own lives by providing unprecedented nursing care to those who were ill or dying from the highly contagious disease.

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, nursing care became closely connected to religion and the church. Both men and women provided nursing care, but only to members of the same gender. Assemblages of men belonged to groups such as the Knights Hospitalers, Knights of Lazarus, the Teutonic Knights, and the Alexian Brotherhood. Attending to injured comrades was the main purpose of the members of these organisations. These groups set a precedent in establishing the administration of prominent battlefield hospitals in Europe. Christianity during the Middle Ages led to the formation of the Augustinian Sisters, the first female nursing society.

16th Century

According to California's Porterville College, formal nursing experience was still not required by the beginning of the 16th century. However, during the ensuing years of the 1500s, population growth, along with outbreaks of epidemics, led to the need for more nurses with proper training. During this period, the Sisters of Charity established the first nursing society with an organised educational curriculum.

First Nurse in America

Around 1550, Mexican Friar Juan de Mena became the first identified nurse in what would someday be the United States, according to the Male Nurse Magazine website. Shipwrecked off the southern coast of Texas, the friar was shot by an arrow and died shortly thereafter. A revered nurse, Friar Juan diligently tended to the sick before setting sail from Mexico in what would be his final voyage.

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