November 1st through 7th is Medical-Surgical Nurses Week, a time to celebrate the medical-surgical nurses among us. Many of us have a pretty specific job description, working alongside specialist physicians and surgeons. There are psych nurses, urology nurses, neurology nurses, and others who focus on one branch of medicine. But some of us are more general, working with a variety of patients and specialities. Medical-surgical nursing may be a broader field than other subsets of nursing, but it’s just as important. In some ways, medical-surgical nurses are the backbone of our entire profession.
The History of Medical-Surgical Nursing
Medical-surgical nursing has a very long history. In fact, it can be viewed as one of the first kinds of nursing to ever develop. In ancient and historical times, before the advent of modern medicine as we know it today, it was common in many places for some women to act as de facto nurses. Medical care, which was often based on medicinal plants that occurred locally, was often administered in temples or other places of worship. These women didn’t really have formal training, but a combination of experience and knowledge handed down from others informed their work.
In the 17th century, generalized nursing practices took another step forward. Saint Vincent de Paul, a French priest, began encouraging women who acted as nurses to undergo training. However, the first nursing school wasn’t established until 1876, when modern medicine was beginning to develop.
It was at this early nursing school, in Kaiserworth, Germany, that Florence Nightingale received her training. Nightingale is widely credited as the founder of modern nursing, and eventually founded her own nursing school in London. Partly due to her efforts, nursing became a very important profession. In the United States, nursing modernized rapidly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The number of hospitals nationwide grew from only 149 in 1873 to 4,400 in 1910. With this growth, new positions for nurses developed, and nursing gained respectable social status.
At this time, nurses were almost always women. In fact, all the way up until the second wave feminist movement and resulting cultural changes in the 1960s, nursing was one of the few professional occupations available for women.
This may just sound like a generalized history of nursing, but actually, most early nurses were basically medical-surgical nurses. Early nursing curricula often separated nursing into medical, surgical, and disease prevention. However, by the 1930s, advocates recommended a single, interdisciplinary approach to nursing education. This integrated approach educated nurses in a wide variety of medical topics and specialties. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that separate educational programs began to develop for nursing specialties.
Medical-Surgical Nursing Today
Today, medical-surgical nursing is its own specialty, and many nurses work in this field at some point in their career. While it’s often been regarded as a stepping stone toward other types of nursing, many nurses continue in this field throughout their career. Once considered an entry-level job position, medical-surgical nursing has now gained the respect it deserves, as an important profession.
Medical-surgical nurses work with patients in a variety of settings, including hospitals, assisted living facilities, hospice centers, independent medical practices, and urgent care centers. Medical-surgical nurses have an impressively large skill set, a result of working across a variety of medical specialties and subspecialties. They’re knowledgeable about all aspects of human health, including psychology and mental health, and work with patients of all ages. It’s not uncommon for medical-surgical nurses to also act as advocates for patients, and nearly all adult patients are seen at some point in their care by a medical-surgical nurse.
It’s a rigorous, challenging job, testing your skills every day. It’s not for everyone, but many nurses thrive in this specialty. By “many,” we actually mean a lot of nurses: over 400,000 out of a total of 2.9 million registered nurses in the United States. It’s actually the most common nursing specialty.
Celebrating Medical-Surgical Nurses
Medical-surgical nursing is a job where you experience new things and acquire new skills on a daily basis. It’s a challenging role, but for many nurses, it’s also a passion. This week is a time to celebrate and acknowledge the many medical-surgical nurses among us.