Nursing Voices

Thursday, October 26, 2006

News Flash: Clara Barton was a Nurse.

Warning: This is a rant. I’m on my soapbox, and I’m not in a good mood.

I was having lunch the other day with some nursing colleagues when someone mentioned Clara Barton. My associate had visited Clara Barton’s home in Glen Echo, Maryland when she was on vacation. She said that walking into Clara Barton’s house was like walking on hallowed ground. Another nurse a the table tilted her head, smiled, and said, “It sounds like you had a lot fun, but you do realize that Clara Barton wasn’t really a nurse.” There was dead silence at the table. We stared at her in disbelief. I finally broke the silence. “Clara Barton is a nursing role model,” I said. “She cared for wounded soldiers during the Civil War, and she was the superintendent of NURSES for the Union army. How can you say she wasn’t a nurse?” Our colleague, who holds a Ph.D. in nursing and who is a nursing educator, didn’t flinch. She said, “Clara Barton didn’t go to an accredited nursing school, and she didn’t have a degree, therefore she wasn’t a real nurse.” After hearing this logic I headed for the bar—I needed a drink.


There’s a feud going on in the nursing community, but this feud isn’t between the Hatfields and the McCoys, it’s between nurses who hold a nursing degree and those who don’t. It’s a passionate feud and the battle lines are drawn. I graduated from a three-year hospital diploma program, and even after working as a bedside nurse for nearly thirty years, there are some who claim I am not a “real nurse.” This infighting is tearing the profession apart.

I wonder what Clara Barton would think about all the bickering if she were alive today. I think she would be amused that some highly educated people view her as less than a nurse. Unfortunately those same people wouldn’t care what Clara thought because she never earned a nursing degree. Nurses are a catty group, and I’m sure Clara’s detractors would belittle her ideas, undercut her efforts to improve health care, and snicker at her qualifications to run the American Red Cross.

Here’s a news flash to my nursing colleagues that just don’t get it: Clara Barton was a nurse, and so are ALL the men and women in the nursing profession who work everyday, taking care of their patients.

41 Comments:

Blogger tigbeane said...

I promise you this, if the nurse is one that actually cares about the patient, the better nurses do tend to be diploma or associate nurses (that's what I have). So many of the BSN programs teach so much theory they forget how to take care of the patient.

I'm sick of dealing with RN's that don't want to do the basic care of the patient. What keeps me focused is remembering that it could easily be me in the bed, and I want my teeth brushed, face washed, and food in a timely manner. Sorry, I think I found your soap box.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Yasamin said...

wow crappy! damn i just think that type of high and mighty thinking really really makes me look twice at someone. i hate it when people think a degree automatically makes you outstanding at your job while the other guy without it... just plain sucks.

bs my friend bs!

11:21 PM  
Blogger yunsinku said...

What a brazen impudence.
We shouldn't use today's criteria to judge our ancestors.
Don't use great clara barton as a tool of dirty rumble.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Hi I have to catch myself many times over my 16 years caring for the sick and elderly that I`m not saying "I`m just a health care aide" I may not be a registered nurse but I do all the hands on care that a lot of my collegues with the titles don`t. I know a nurse that said" I give them pills but I don`t let them touch me". How horrible. I agree with tigbeane . Keep in mind it could easily be us in that bed. Good luck nursies who only want to give out pills and give needles. There is so much more to nursing. KLARA BARTON WAS A NURSE

2:52 AM  
Blogger SQT said...

I am not a nurse, but I have many friends who are. My mother-in-law worked for many years as an emergency room nurse before she became and RN. She wasn't any more capable after recieving the credential, and certainly didn't work any harder.

It reminds me of the ivory tower PhD's who insist on being called Doctor despite the fact that they never leave their hallowed halls of learning. It's as if they somehow believe that the scholarship is more important than the application of their knowledge. I beg to differ.

3:05 AM  
Blogger cathrine the gr8 said...

anyone caring for people in my eyes are a chosen and special breed. i take my hat of to them.
unfortunatly i realy get dizzy if i see blood.

6:29 AM  
Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

I think the hospital diploma vs. BSN, MSN, etc. stuff is symptomatic of a deep problem in our society at large -- not just in nursing.

We are a credential-mad society.

We lost the battle in law a long time ago. Name the greatest lawyer ever to come out of the State of Illinois: You can give honorable mentions to Clarence Darrow or John Paul Stevens or any number of folks.

But at the top of the pyramid, standing head, shoulders, and torso above the rest is Abraham Lincoln.

Did he go to law school? Any law school? Did he even go to college? (Much less a duly-accredited by the ABA three year program...)

No! Of course not!

He "read law" -- in someone's office.

Which is what every single stinking lawyer in the world still has to do upon graduation and passing the bar anyway. Because graduating from law school means nothing except you have qualified to sit for the bar exam. Passing the bar exam means nothing except that you can start learning the law.

And I did say start. Unless the newly admitted lawyer has actually worked for a lawyer during school (actively discouraged by the academics, let me assure you), the typical new law graduate would be unable to find the courthouse without a map.

Go to college now and not get a BSBA -- or more likely an MBA -- and forget about working in business. And why? What do they have that a liberal arts major doesn't have?

A credential.

If you hear in that the cadence of the Wizard of Oz explaining to Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion about degrees, testimonials, and medals, it is entirely intentional.

But I'd better stop: I'm stealing your rant.

Let's just say.... I'm inclined to agree with you on this one....

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Todd said...

We're all nurses and you should have bitch slapped your colleague. I however take issue with anyone who claims that BSN programs forget to teach their students how to take care of patients. I have a BSN and I provide just as much quality, direct patient care as my LPN, diploma and ADN colleagues. Rather than criticize each other, why can't we nurses just respect our many differences and band together? We would have so much more power if we just stopped all this internal bickering.

11:29 AM  
Blogger weasle said...

Nurses are as nurses do.

I might 'only' be an LPN, but I seem to have more commonsense than some RN's.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Jean-Luc Picard said...

That is just so weird! I'm sure all the people the Clara Barton treated wern't asking to see her medical diplomas.

1:49 PM  
Anonymous amy a-z said...

As an oncology nurse, I, with absoloutely no authority, grant honorary RNs to my patient's spouses and caregivers, who everyday expand their own loving practice by learning how to hang antibiotics, dress wounds, give injections, and otherwise care for my patients when they are not with me. Credentials and academics have a purpose, but nursing is still a practice.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Jeankfl said...

Nursing is still an art and anyone looking at the people working today can see the difference in a "real" nurse and one that is just educated in nursing, whatever level they have. Nursing is an art and a calling, and some have it and some don't...and those that don't will never understand those that do..that said, I agree with the commentor that said nursing needs to quit infighting and band together and make some real changes in medicine..not just cosmetic ones...after we care for the patients! This is a fight that has been going for more than my 30 years in the profession, and will continue for a while longer, til all of us "diploma" nurses die off and all the ADN's give up and become something less. Sucks..but those ivory tower people are the only ones with extra time and energy to fight, so they frequently win..put them on some nursing areas, let them work 50-60 hours/week and care for more than is possible, and see how quickly nursing changes for the good!! lol

5:15 PM  
Blogger ~Autumn said...

I'm in a 4yr BSN program, and I have some thoughts on this. I wish there wasn't a feud, because a nurse functions in so many roles no matter what level of education she or he may have. I agree that it's not your level of education but how well you manage your roles and take care of your patient that makes you a great nurse.

I think these days in the 4yr programs they are pushing more theory and management because someone somewhere is pushing to get nursing into a more professionalized career. Unfortunately that means a uniformity to the way nurses are educated. But there are so many different knowledge levels to the duties nurses performs that makes things like that hospital programs and the LPN schools still essential.

But also in the 4yr schools, you don't practice actual nursing skills until the end of the sophomore year and in this day and age could be up to 3 years after you've started school. And the limited time for clinicals and special experiences are becoming a problem. We're having to fight for available time in the teaching hospitals. Nurses are coming away with a hurried look at nursing practice, and I'll be honest, not many have the opportunity to really look at what a nurse aide does or practice what they do. I think that is an experience that can really humble a 4yr degree nursing student, and they just aren't getting that. I'm thankful for my experience as a nurse aide at a nursing home, and I will never forget it.

9:12 PM  
Blogger TuxBaby said...

I am a BSN nurse. But now I'm working in a community college with the ADN program. And after living through one program, and now working with another, I can see just where that 'argument' is about, regarding BSN nurses being all theory and not enough hands-on, while ADN/hospital nurses being better at clinical nursing. I can see the difference in how the 2 programs are taught.

But in the end, both graduates still have to take the same NCLEX and both still have to function as professionally and as competently on the job as any other nurse. I have known both BSN and ADN nurses who are simply great RNs, as well as both BSN nurses and ADN nurses who are bordering on dangerous. It's not the degree or lack of that makes any nurse better than the other- it's the NURSE'S own individual level of competency and professionalism and care that matters. I might have a BSN, but it's not because I thought I'd be a better nurse. I have the degree just because I'm degree-anal that way ON MY OWN. As for working as a nurse, I'd much rather be "just" a great clinical nurse in the trenches than a lame nurse manager who sits on her high horse all day long.

And yes, Clara Barton was a REAL nurse.

1:53 AM  
Blogger SRINIVAS said...

Hi, Thank you for visiting my Blog.
I read your article on Clara Barton. After reading I feel that She is a Nurse and there is no doubt in that. If she did'nt have degree, it doesn't mean that she is unqualified, but she is a qualified nurse without degree and who understood the Nurses Profession very well. When she served in the Union Army, what more else degree is required. She was a perfect nurse I feel.

5:31 AM  
Blogger Deacon Barry said...

I ain't got no degree. On my diploma course, I had a month of college, my honeymoon, then straight into 3 months on a medical ward in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. For the next three years, that was the pattern - 3/12 placement interspersed with 4-6 weeks college. I learned 'on the job' which is, I feel, the best way to learn.

6:04 AM  
Blogger Ms. Knitingale said...

I am a 41-year-old who is finally in college hoping to pursue the lifelong dream of going into nursing (I've been an MA). At present, there is a huge shortage of nurses, and there are anywhere from 200 - 500 applicants to local nursing programs. Sadly, each program has about 30 - 40 openings. More and more education for nurses is great, but what are we going to do when all the nurses are in school and no one is actually on the floor with the patients because everyone's trying to become a "real nurse"? C'mon, people. It's about the patients. Infighting amongst the nurses benefits no one, including the nurses. We have MUCH bigger issues.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Forty_Two said...

And Timothy McVeigh wasn't a real terrorist because he didn't belong to an established terrorist organization.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

3:46 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

Why don't nurses unionize? Just curious. I know the unions are dying and hence Americans are working longer and harder than we did even a decade ago, but still, with the nursing shortage, and nursing programs turning away A+ students, it seems nurses might have some bargaining space here. Instead, they turn on themselves and bicker. (Just a view from a rather naieve non-nurse, no disrespect intended!) I highly respect nurses, having been raised by one who graduated from Presbyterian-ST.Luke's Hospital in Chicago and then got her BSN from U of Michigan. Love your blog, by the way!

9:33 AM  
Blogger kt said...

i hear you on this one! i was a LPN then went to an associates RN. LPN i was told i wasn't a "real nurse". hello! i gave out medicine, had to pass the NCLEX and monitored patients. the nursing degrees are getting out of hand!

Clara was a REAL NURSE!

11:33 AM  
Blogger RX850 said...

I am totally with you on this one. An education gives you information and tools to do a job but it's up to the individual to learn and grow to make something of it. And on the job training was standard in Clara's day. I too was an LPN before getting my ADN and my experiences and nursing practice would stand up against any multi-credentialled nurse's.

Nursing is just hurting itself with the fight to have the "best" degree. How can anyone take us seriously when all we do is snipe at each other?

12:21 PM  
Blogger colette said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:17 PM  
Blogger colette said...

Around here we call those nurses who are ALL theory and NO patient care..."book nurses".

3:20 PM  
Blogger picnpec said...

...and this ole "low paid nurse" calls 'em "pretty nurses"

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Kim said...

Move over on that soapbox, baby, you have a nurse here who not only thinks Clara Barton was a nurse, but who is also a Civil War buff at the same time.

Don't anyone be messin' with Clara!

I'm going back to get my BSN/MSN so I can teach in an ADN program!

No ivory tower for me - and my future students will know the necessity for good, solid, hands on bedside care, believe me.

I feel like a renegade...

And I like it!

12:24 PM  
Anonymous CCRN retired said...

Clara Barton was a real nurse. I worked 17 years in critical care with an ADN degree before illness made me stop. In that time I worked with every degree or certification available, all that really matters is the patients and if you care enough to give 100% of yourself to them. It's nice when you have someone with more knowledge or more experience to help in the trendges. The best way we can help the current problems is to remember why we're there-- the patient-- and if we're ther for some other reson then we're definitely not the nurse Clara Barton was. My question is--- How many of you would tolerate her living conditions for even one week to try and help someone in desparate need (soldiers)? Enough said.

12:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Until we are taking different licensure examinations, there is no difference between anyone who holds the title "RN".

The basis of the problem is definitely in our society that sees letters behind a name as a sign of higher abilities, when anyone that has worked as a real nurse knows this is just a name game.

Those nurses who go back to school and want to be called "Dr." should have thought harder about the profession they chose, and perhaps truly became a medical doctor.

Where I work, we call the non-worker nurses "lab coat ladies".

2:09 PM  
Blogger TiqueRN said...

An RN is an RN is an RN....LPN is an LPN. If you want to be a CNS, or a NP-C, or an APN, or an RN-D or an RN MSN, or an RN PhD...WHO CARES?

To me it signifies sometimes who had a better opportunity, and little more than that. As anonymous said: "The basis of the problem is definitely in our society that sees letters behind a name as a sign of higher abilities, when anyone that has worked as a real nurse knows this is just a name game."


There is definitely a higherarchy where I work, and RN's and BSN's are looked down upon. Don't even think of getting a speck of respect if you're an LPN. It's all about the NP now in the physician outpatient practices or the MSN if it's a management position


Would I be a nurse again today? HELL NO!

5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clara BartonOf course Clara Barton was a nurse. She didn’t go to a formal education program and pass a test so she was not an LPN or an RN, but she most certainly was trained in an apprentice like manner. This was commonly done in the past with many professions. I’m sure was trained by other nurses. As we all need to be no mater how many degrees we have. One of the problems in nursing is that no one wants to take a young nurse under their wing to help mold them into a safe and effective nurse.
It’s important too that we have nurses that have advanced degrees, so we can all benefit from the both the science and the art of nursing.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous baggins said...

"she most certainly was trained in an apprentice like manner. "
And that is where the real learning happens, for MDs, nurses, and most folks in most professions. I learned more as an orderly and hospital "trained" RT than I did in nursing school. My anesthesia "apprenticeship" gave me the clinical skills and experience I find lacking in some of the Masters degree anesthetists I know, who did a few hundred cases under close supervision during training.

3:40 PM  
Blogger olwyn perkin said...

Hi, I am a Nurse Practitioner in Manchester in Great Britain, I don't know if I am relieved or troubled by the fact that over in the USA you fight amongst each other and jeopardise the profession in the same way we do over here. I trained a long time ago In 1975 and have seen so many changes, read each new paper initially with hope and these days with despaire as the powers that be "talk a good job" but don't provide the resources to do one. In the long run the result of all the in-fighting and disrespect of each other is, its the patients that suffer. In my place of work the nurses who consider themselves above hands on care are known as 'corporate nurses'. They are the poorer for it if they could but realise.

Olwyn Perkin
Nurse Practitioner
Gastroenterological medicine.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

I'm with Todd on this one. I take issue with anyone who says that says the better nurses are the one's who have a diploma or are LPN's etc... I have a BScN and I love nursing. I can assure you my hands are in the thick of things and I love the basic care.

Stop the in fighting about who's a better nurse. Stick together and take care of your patients with all of the compassion and skills that you have.

Without a doubt Clara Barton was a nurse!!!!!!!!!!!!

8:03 PM  
Blogger IAPsychRN said...

Clara was a nurse.

I really wish we could get beyond this kind of conversation. If you don't get education, you are limited as a nurse and a person. Education gives you the tools to be a better and more creative nurse.

Enjoyed the conversation.

3:13 AM  
Blogger h1berto said...

The only purpose of education is to create doubts. With doubts we ask and investigate. this is the difference between we and common people. They do like we teach, we do because we know. Theory and practice should hang toghether. Unfortunetly, many times it does't happen, and i think that's why nurses are not united.

7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have worked with some great ADN,Diploma and BSN nurses. In the long run, nurses need to be judged individually. When a patient is sick, he doesn't much care which nursing theory is being demonstrated. He just wants competent, compassionate care.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Clara Barton was not a nurse because she didn't have a degree, what was Hippocrates?

I agree with those who say the degree doesn't matter, the character or personality does; the two simply don't correlate. I've had a number of doctoral level teachers over my 25-year nursing career, and frankly, most "basic nurses" wouldn't put up with what they have to, including 50-60 hour work weeks (often for less than what staff nurses get paid) for anything. Why do they do it? Mostly because they love nursing and teaching nursing, pushing frontiers, etc. They're doing what they want and love to do, just like the rest of us. Arguing about the level of education doesn't make any more sense to me than arguing about what specialty is most valuable or most worthy of respect.

I'm going to make an observation: Many of the nurses who say that nurses are a catty lot seem to contribute a lot to the cattiness. Just because you don't understand what makes doctoral level nurses tick doesn't mean they're some kind of nursing subspecies any more than AD, diploma nurses, LPNs, etc.

Another observation: You can't be a good nurse without caring, but neither can you be one without knowing a lot. All the warm fuzzies in the world don't keep someone alive or sane, or help them die or be crazy with dignity. Nursing does not need ignorance. The primary drive for further education is based on just that premise. Theory is SUPPOSED to lead to better practice, to help us do our jobs better. Falling in love with theories isn't any more helpful than falling in love with patients. Each should be appreciated. The one (theory), to help the other (patient/practice).

So, Clara Barton is a nurse. So is Susie Q., RN, AD. So is John S., RN, BSN. So is Elizabeth Kennedy Rothschild Morgan, RN, PhD, EdD, FAAN, C-PNP, etc., etc. (Pretentious, maybe, but still one of us.) :)

5:49 PM  
Blogger Ariel said...

I'm a BSN student and I hope to God that I get to work with LPN's as a new grad. There are some things you just can't learn in school- the art of patient interaction, exactly the right way to do that difficult IV stick... I'll have a BSN but it'll be years before I can offer the same quality of care. Clara Barton was a real nurse. Kudos.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Some Random Girl said...

that is so true. just as some RN's don't think LVNs are nurses....it's silly really. Why can't we all just get along? Why is one better than the other? Can't we all respect each others decisions to be nurses period? The patient doesn't care whether or not you have a Phd or an LVN or just a plain ol' RN from a 2 year program. As long as you are starting that IV with one stick or giving him his pain meds on time, I'd venture to say we all strive for the same thing....great care!

1:15 PM  
Blogger laugh said...

yes but there are also many people who do not have nursing degrees that treat patients with the same lack of care. Its not just one sided, each person has a different way to treat a patient, whether they have a degree or not.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

I am in a BSN program and only am doing it because there was a long waiting list for the ADN program. I feel like the ADN students probably get a better education because they learn critical thinking and judgment and technical skills. I sit around and write care plans. I don't get to pass meds during my rotations...I just sit there and watch. I would be scared for my patients when I graduate if I hadn't spent the last four years working full-time in an ER. I have gotten a better education at work than my silly BSN program has even offered.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Valerie said...

I stumbled on this blog while researching Clara to Interpret her and I need to say that Clara was a very special woman so far beyond this argument. I appreciate the writer wanting to give Clara her due, but Clara would not waste a minute on this she would be too busy helping others, She stands out in a time as truly an Angel as she has been called on the Battlefield of the Civil war and off. She was a Nurse, a cook, a pastor/priest, a stand in family member, an administrator, a person/family finder... well everything. I believe in the time we have lost what it is to just plain... serve others. There are good and bad in all professions. we know of people who are in it for the buck and those who do what they do for the love of it. Sometimes we have no choice. My Mother in law was a teacher for years and hated it, but in her generation thats what women did. I hope that the debate can end and Nurses can just nurse others and be there to hold the hand of someone who needs it as well as administer a shot or , draw blood and so many other things I know I have not an idea that a nurse does, very important job. When I had my two children the two nurses I had were superb and I am so thankful for them during such an emotional and physical ordeal. Clara Barton was an amazing woman and yes an American Hero, teach every kid you know about her, thats what I intend to do....

4:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home