Eye-Opening Perspectives for Heroic Hearts

Eye-Opening Perspectives for Heroic Hearts

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why Is Nursing The World's Most Trusted Profession?

by Maria Lititia Romolino Bonaparte Jones for CPW News Service

Every year the most trusted profession is nursing. Why?

Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, the predominantly female profession has not lost its eye for good apples and this side of the Fall they have collectively maintained an elevated sense of what can go wrong when people go too far astray of their primary calling. So there are few "bad apples" in nursing and the bad ones are policed with great scrutiny by the others.

Nurses are about caring, healing and living and as a group they frequently make apple sauce of those that aren't. Death is an everyday aspect of their work, too, but at its heart nursing is a dynamically feminine culture-creator that "mothers" life even when it is ending or is exploited by the masculine arts of combat, warfare or even the thrusts of the surgeon's scalpel which often finds its ever evolving science linked to and refined in the military theater. Nursing has always resisted losing a nurturing and prophetic role in relationship to medicine as a whole, just as did Hippocrates in his concern for "first do no harm".

The shake up of the Roman Catholic Church's iron-clad inquisitor-domination of science was led by Copernicus and Galileo who redirected science and theology from their seats of learning at the University of Padua in Northern Italy. It is not by accident that this was the home of Vasalius, perhaps the world's greatest anatomist. Long a bastion of scholarly dissent, as evidence by the pre-Reformation movement of Peter Waldo and the Venetian, Florentine and Paduan embrace of Saint Luke, the physician, as the preferred, but enigmatic keeper of the church's other keys....those that opened the door to medicine and science... France and Northern Italy were destined to play a significant role in the development of medicine and nursing. Northern Italy and Southern France forged the marriage between and divorce of religion and science and counseled their ongoing parenthood of the child they birthed together. Saint Thomas, the disciple who was not afraid to put his hand in Jesus' wounds is credited with carrying the paintings of Luke... the evangelist and physician... to India. Luke's remains would later be buried at Padua underscoring that community's embrace of both science and religion. Unlike Saint Paul who had traveled the well paved Roman highway west toward Spain, Thomas and Luke headed toward the decidedly more inhospitable east, toward deeper mysteries, in the direction from which the disenchanted Wise Men had followed a star beyond their caste-driven social structures where Greek and Roman ideals of government by inclusion were a rarity. In this aspect of his life, Thomas' "doubting" is seen as "faith seeking understanding", the benchmark of the Ages of Enlightenment, Reason and Reformation.

Circumventing the Roman Catholic inquisition, but losing some of the church's most outspoken critics, this enlightenment would travel the back roads around the Roman Empire and emerge in Northern Italy, Germany, Britain and France while reconnecting with the traditions of Luke and Thomas. So aware of this historic development were the Protestants, Unitarians and increasingly secularized French Roman Catholics and British that they often vacationed in Florence, Venice and Padua. By the middle of the 19th Century prominent Americans of the English Puritan Protestant tradition whose English ancestors had been major contributors to universities in Cambridge where Florence Nightengale received her education, made Florence their "home away from home". Seeing themselves as an extension of the Age of Enlightment they were increasingly buried in Florence. Names like poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, artist Hiram Powers, Boston abolitionist and Unitarian preacher ...Theodore Parker...whose references to the Cushing family is recorded in Parker's collections of correspondence.  The Cushings had learned from the British China traders the powers and economic promise of that essential medical and military tool, morphine. The English Cemetery in Florence, the city in which Florence Nightengale was born and for which she was named is full of these American New Englanders including Parker.

The question remains as to whether or not nursing will remain the most trusted profession or become a powerful, but untrusted one. There is a battle raging over the soul of the nursing profession. Because of its pivotal position between patients and the increasingly mercenary methods and practices used to extract from them medicine's spiraling costs, nurses are seen as an exceptionally powerful group in determining the future of medicine.

Napolean Bonapart sensed it long ago. Seeing the importance of reinstating the nation's religious orders after nationalizing the Roman Catholic Church in France and with both Catholic and Protestant nursing expressions providing bedside care of his suffering soldiers while providing a safety net for the nation's poor, he appointed his mother,  Lititia, to oversee France's Office of Charity which included the highly respected and needed nursing community. In short order, they met with Napolean, received their funding while maintaining their prophetic role without rejecting either their religious orientation or their increasingly broadening sense of civil responsibility. Napolean's mom "mothered". Perhaps she was thinking, "What? I'm going to ask these women to carry a child for nine months so that as teenagers they can become your canon fodder on a foreign battlefield? Think again!" Napolean never again met with France's nurses.

With America's medical profession increasingly joined at the hip with the American Military Industrial Complex, a complex that is not above using food or medicine as weapons, the players have changed, but the game is essentially the same. It is no longer Napoleon who longs to keep the nursing corp under his thumb and controlled for the sake of his military and political agenda. It is large pharmaceutical and chemical companies, medical product companies that depend on precious metals and oil for surgical devices and plastic products and whose parent or sister organizations mine gold, diamonds, sulfur for gunpowder, copper for brass shell casing or uranium for nuclear weapons or x-ray or proton therapy machines and who sometimes use the nurses' high level of respectability as a tool as with Nestle's baby formula sales in Third World nations that triggered a world-wide Nestle boycott.

Nursing is the world's most trusted profession because it sees itself as the synthesis between two polar opposites....life and death....both spiritual and material. But nursing has its work cut out for itself.

In 1911 the National Council of Trained Nurses Pageant held the "Pageant and Masque Gala" as a support builder for nurse registration in Britain. In the processional was Hygeia the Greek goddess of health...celebrating medicine's roots in Hippocrates' Greek Republic, followed by a Florence Nightingale banner carried by nurses from 13 nations which had already achieved registration status. The banner read "Mightier Than The Sword". That was surely the hope of Napolean's mother in the 18th Century, but in four years from the gala, in 1914, the world was at war and the nurses enjoyed full employment. And so it goes. Nursing was initiated over time into the world of cold hard truth. Changing that world is not easy, but they had a better chance of influencing change by using their collective voice rather than by going it alone. The high level of trust which the world gives to nurses has been earned over centuries. As with any reputation, a good one can be lost in an instant. What direction will nursing's future take? It's entirely up to them to decide.

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