Last week was National Nurses Week. Today was the 105th Anniversary of the Navy Nurse Corps. Nurses are the lynchpin of medicine. Physicians are incredibly important and as a society we usually ascribe more value to them. However in many case, if not most it is a nurse who is the person that does the heavy lifting in the care of the sick. Before the modern era of nursing was often done by Nuns or by women that volunteered to assist military physicians.
The First 20 Navy Nurses “the Sacred 20″ 1908
It was in the quagmire of the Crimean War that Florence Nightingale brought about the modern era of nursing, even though physicians and hospitals often saw the women who served as nurses as inexpensive help to care for the sick. Despite this nursing became more and more professional and technical over the years without ever losing that particular calling of ministering to the afflicted that is the essence of their history. In the later 1800s the first nursing schools were established and in 1901 New Zealand was the first country to have Registered Nurses. In 1903 North Carolina became the first US State to require the licensure of nurses.
Chief Nurse Lena Higbee, Second Superintendent of the Nurse Corps, and first woman awarded the Navy Cross (above) and the ship named after her the USS Higbee DD 806 (below)
The US Navy Nurse Corps was established n 1908 with nurses being commissioned as officers and assigned to Naval Hospitals. However it was the needs of war that brought nursing into the modern age where it is formally recognized as a key component of Health Care. In the World Wars nursing came into its own as a profession. Nurses were among the US personnel that endured the initial onslaught of the war in the Pacific. The Army and Navy Nurses that served and cared for the wounded, starving and emaciated Soldiers, Marines and Sailors on Bataan and Corregidor were heroes in their own right.
Navy Nurses released from Japanese Captivity (above) and a Nurse aboard USS Benevolence with a POW released from Japanese Captivity in 1945
The profession of nursing continues to grow and the women and men who serve as nurses at various levels, from the most highly trained Clinical Nurse Specialists and Nurse Practitioners, or other highly specialized Registered Nurses many of whom have advanced degrees including doctorates down to the most humble Licensed Vocational (or Practical) Nurse and even Certified Nursing Aides. These women and men are the backbone of medicine and despite the long hours, the years of training and certification required of them, many people don’t fully appreciate them until they become sick and are cared for by these wonderful people.
Ensign Jane “Candy” Kendeigh, the First flight nurse to serve in Iwo Jima and Okinawa Campaigns
Today US Navy Nurses serve in every place one can find a Sailor or Marine. They serve in Hospitals, Medical Centers and other Medical Facilities in the United States and overseas. They serve aboard surface ships, combatants as well as Hospital Ships, with the Fleet Marine Force, in Joint and Multi-National Medical activities deployed in combat zones and in humanitarian operations.
I have been blessed to have known and worked with many amazing nurses in the course of my career as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army and as a Chaplain in the military and civilian settings. Today I was present and offered a prayer at the cutting of the Navy Nurse Corps Birthday Cake at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune. It was my 5th year serving in Navy Medicine and offering this prayer and blessing was an honor that I will always remember. Since I will be transferring out of Navy Medicine in the August-September time frame to assume new duties at the Joint Forces Staff College this will be the last one of these events that I get to officiate at for a few years.
LCDR Eric Gryn in Afghanistan tending a wounded Afghan Soldier on a Medivac flight in 2011, he serves at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune
As such I just want to thank all of my friends that serve as Navy Nurses with whom I have shared joys and sorrows the past several years. Blessings on all of you!
God Bless all Nurses tonight, especially those tending the sick, ill and injured and those in harm’s way.