At the height of World War II, as U.S. troops fought fierce battles in
Asia, Africa and Europe, Americans back on the home front were facing a
severe shortage of skilled nurses. In response, the U.S. Congress
drafted legislation designed to make the nursing profession more
accessible - especially to women and racial minorities such as
The so-called Bolton Act, which became law
on June 15, 1943, provided funding for better nurse training, set up
programs to boost public recognition of the profession and laid the
groundwork for the well-trained corps of highly-skilled nursing
professionals the nation enjoys today.
May Wykle is a 40-year
veteran of nursing and dean of the Frances Payne Bolton School of
Nursing in Cleveland, Ohio. She believes her profession is thriving.
outlook for nurses is bright, and particularly in the ailing economy.
By 2012, the health care practitioners will probably need to add over a
million jobs," she says. "So registered nurses as an occupation
continues because we have to take care of people."
An unsung hero
the modern nursing profession didn't really come into its own until
Congress passed the Bolton Act of 1943, which, like Wykle's Ohio
nursing school, was named after Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton, a
women's rights activist who spearheaded the legislation. Wykle says
the law enabled African-Americans like herself to go into a field that
previously had been barred to them.
"It was an opportunity
for African-Americans to come into nursing because one of the things
that Frances Payne Bolton stipulated was that they could not segregate.
So it was a big boost to bring minorities into nursing."
Wykle considers Frances Payne Bolton "an unsung hero" for creating opportunities for minorities to come into nursing.
Getting the respect they deserve
despite the expanded opportunities to enter the nursing profession over
the past six decades, Wykle says American nurses are still fighting to
gain the professional respect she believes they deserve. Nursing has
struggled for some time to get its due, she says.
"We've always been known in the past as a handmaiden to the physician."
says nursing still needs to really come into its own as being
collaborative and recognizing that a nurse is someone who can be very
helpful in terms of bringing quality health care to many people.
Whittier, a clinical medical assistant at the Virginia Spine Institute
in Reston, Virginia, agrees with Wykle. He says he believes any doctor
would say a nurse "is the actual keystone of the medical profession."
have the first interaction with the patient. They are the only ones
that are there consistently while the doctor isn't there, and they are
the ones constantly giving care."
Nurses find opportunities to change lives
Indeed, most nurses today see
themselves as essential players in quality patient care. Jill
Sekscienski is a registered nurse at Sibley Hospital in Washington,
D.C. She has been in the nursing profession for 22 years.
think if you ask patients what makes the difference when they go into a
hospital for care, many of them will tell you that the nurses are the
ones that pull them through."
Sekscienski recalls an incident that she says helps explain why she feels so passionately about her job.
man came up to me and said to me, said to my children, said, 'Excuse
me, is this your mother?' and the kids looked at him and said, 'Yes it
is.' And he said, 'I just want you to know that your mother changed my
life' and [he] proceeded to tell them that I was involved in the care
of his father, who was critically ill, and he lived through that
experience, and he has been able to meet that particular man's six
children as a result. So how do you measure something like that?"
A thriving profession
are financial rewards to nursing, as well. Salaries for registered
nurses in the United States average more than $60,000 per year and can
reach as high as $80,000. But the personal and professional benefits of
nursing still need to be more widely promoted, says May Wykle at the
Frances Payne Bolton School. She notes that many of the country's 2.9
million nurses are nearing retirement age, and the profession needs to
attract a new generation of nurses.
Wykle is confident it
will, despite the current economic downturn. The Bureau of Labor
Statistics is projecting more than 587,000 new nurse positions will be
created through 2016.
She says one of the nice things about nursing is that people can change their career.
can be a teacher. You can be an administrator. You can specialize in a
different field. You can work out in the community. You can work in the
schools, and so there's a lot more to it than just the acute-care
hospitals, where we see a lot of nurses working."
there's always going to be a need for nurses at the bedside, in
administration and teaching and in the various specialties.
nurse Jill Sekscienski at Sibley Hospital, the strongest appeal of her
profession remains the deep satisfaction that comes from helping people
who are in great need.
"Despite the challenges, I think it's
one of those professions that at the end of the day, you know that what
you do really matters."
One of the world's most famous nurses,
Florence Nightingale, is being honored this week. She was a
19th-century humanitarian considered by many to be the founder of
modern nursing. In the United States, Nightingale's birthday on May
12th caps National Nurses Week - a time when the American nursing
community works to raise awareness of the critical role they play in
protecting the public health.