Mapping the Past and Future of Nursing

New anthology offers historic and contemporary essays on nursing, from Nightingale to Hassmiller and Burnes Bolton.

    • October 28, 2011

A century and a half ago, Florence Nightingale’s classic, “Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not,” quite literally defined a profession. Before the “Lady with the Lamp,” nursing was an act performed by daughters and wives, with no training and little experience. Nightingale returned from the Crimean War in the late 1850s, having already sown the seeds of transformation by bringing both attention and reform to the conditions of military medicine, but her 1860 “Notes on Nursing” forever changed the way nursing was viewed.

“Notes on Nursing” is one of 24 of the most influential articles by and about nurses and nursing gathered together in a new anthology, The Nursing Profession: Development, Challenges, and Opportunities, edited by Diana J. Mason, RN, PhD, FAAN, Stephen l. Isaacs, JD, and David C. Colby, PhD. Mason is the Rudin Professor of Nursing at the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing and former editor of the American Journal of Nursing; Isaacs is with the San Francisco consulting firm Isaacs/Jellinek and president of Health Policy Associates; and Colby is RWJF’s vice president of research and evaluation.

The book is the fifth in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health Policy Series, which takes a comprehensive look at important fields in which the RWJF has made substantial investments over the years, and highlights significant contributions to those fields by Foundation grantees, staff and other leaders.

The volume is intended as a resource for those interested in or touched by nursing—an effort, in the words of its co-editors, “to capture the field in a single volume and to share the best thinking of those who study and practice it.” At the heart of the book are the 24 article reprints, penned by authors spanning the entire history of the profession. Nightingale’s seminal “Notes on Nursing” anchors a section on the history of nursing and the role of nurses. The 1922 “Goldmark Report” from the Committee on Nursing Education opens a section on nurse education and training. Subsequent sections cover advanced practice nursing; the nursing workforce/nursing shortages; quality, safety and cost; and specialty practice in nursing. They feature contributions from Mary O. Mundinger, DrPH, Mary D. Naylor, RN, PhD, FAAN, Peter I. Buerhaus, PhD, RN, Linda H. Aiken, PhD, RN, and dozens of others. Collectively the authors are a virtual honor roll of leaders in the field.

The reprinted articles are discussed and put into context in an original article by co-editor Mason, who offers a sweeping overview of what is to follow, describing the profession’s origins and growth, and exploring the multiple facets of modern nursing. Along the way, she gives context to the many difficult issues confronting the profession in this time of profound change for nursing and health care more generally.

Bookending Mason’s contribution and the reprinted articles are a foreword by RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, and an afterword by Donna Shalala, PhD, and Linda Burnes Bolton, DrPH, MPH, MSN, BSN, respectively the chair and co-chair of the RWJF Initiative on the Future of Nursing at the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Lavizzo-Mourey places the volume in the context of the Future of Nursing report, published by IOM last October. Shalala and Burnes Bolton strike a similar theme, highlighting the broad recommendations of the report, and describing it as a “call to action for all sectors.”

As RWJF’s Susan B. Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Foundation’s senior adviser for nursing and director of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, notes in a preface, “Together, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report and The Nursing Profession: Development, Challenges, and Opportunities lay the groundwork for understanding where the field has been, where it stands currently, and where it needs to go in the future.”

The book is available at in paperback and for the Kindle.