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.