Department: Editor's Memo
Nurses Trusted to Care is the theme for 2011 National Nurses Week. Besides representing the largest profession by numbers in the nation's healthcare system, nurses have been repeatedly voted by the public as the most trusted profession in America—a fact of which we can all be proud.
May is a month that brings us spring flowers and several important celebrations for nurses. Nurses Week begins on May 6, marking a weeklong series of nurse recognition, and ends on May 12, the birth date of nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale and also graduation day for many nurses. Organizations honor nurses in special events during the week and individuals personally thank the nurses in their lives. Remembering the "first nurse" is part of the time-honored tradition.
A nurse's pledge
Nightingale is credited with inspiring nursing as a science: "Everyday sanitary knowledge, or the knowledge of nursing, or in other words, of how to put the constitution in such a state as that it will have no disease, or that it can recover from disease, takes a higher place. It is recognized as the knowledge which everyone ought to have—distinct from medical knowledge, which only a profession can have."1 A kindred spirit of this philosophy was Lystra E. Gretter, principal at Farrand Training School for Nurses at Harper Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. She made revolutionary changes by shifting the "model of nursing education from a one-year apprenticeship to a three-year academic pursuit." Gretter is also believed to have written the first standardized textbook for nursing training. She chaired the Committee at Farrand Training School that wrote the Nightingale Pledge, an adaptation of the Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians. Named in honor of Florence Nightingale, the "Nightingale Pledge" for nurses was first used in 1893 for the school's graduating class of nurses.2 The pledge was meant to describe the opinions of what nurses did at the time and to shape the image of nurses. It reads:
"I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly, to pass my life in purity and to practice 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 endeavor to aid the physician, in his work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care."
Following modern tradition
Until the 1970s, the Nightingale Pledge was a much anticipated ritual at graduation or the common "Pinning Ceremony." I vividly remember my pinning and remember how honored I was the first time a student asked me to pin her. Over time, many schools have modified the words and phrases in the pledge to reflect the changing status of nursing within the healthcare arena.
The reference to "loyalty to physicians" prompted many to emphasize instead loyalty to the patient and her or his well-being. Controversy aside, May is a time to celebrate the thousands of new graduates at all levels from nursing programs; whether you recite the Nightingale Pledge or not is not the issue. Graduation is an exciting event and hopefully the beginning of a lifetime commitment to nursing. Remember and thank all the nurses who came before us, all the nurses who are molding the present, and all the new nurses who will build the future. Turn to a colleague and say, "I'm glad you're at my side."
1. Nightingale F. Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not
. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc; 1969.
2. Lystra Eggert Gretter