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ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – With Nurses Week upon us – a week ending each year on Florence Nightingale’s birthday – we here at the U.S. Army Public Health Center wanted to take a moment to thank all Army Public Health Nurses for the hard work and dedication you show to the communities you serve every day. Thank you!

We also wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the roots of modern public health nursing by briefly exploring why some of nursing’s icons would probably have been considered public health nurses if they were serving today.

If you are a nurse, you have likely already heard of Florence Nightingale, Lillian Wald, Margaret Sanger, and Clara Barton. While one of these women is a household name the world over, all left their mark on the world as a groundbreaking and paradigm-shifting nurse who impacted the lives of an unimaginable number of people. These women’s accomplishments and leadership inspired generations of nurses and improved the human condition. Their selfless dedication to the profession of nursing and the communities they served continues to embody what it means to be a nurse to this day.

Arguably, through the lens of today, much of the work these nursing juggernauts are remembered for would be considered Public Health Nursing.

Most people, regardless of their background, intuitively understand the role of a nurse in the clinical setting. However, what it means to be a public health nurse remains elusive. Public health nurses focus their attention on the population rather than on individuals. This shift in focus necessitates systems and critical thinking to fulfill public health nursing’s collective moral obligation to solve problems as systemically as possible before they lead to health problems in our communities.

The work of modern public health nurses, though perhaps not as well-known as that of emergency room or intensive care unit nurses, shares the moral imperative that drove the work of Florence Nightingale, Lillian Wald, Margaret Sanger, and Clara Barton. Like public health nurses today, these nursing heroes strove to improve the lives of everyone in the populations they served by advocating for the disadvantaged, educating the communities they served, and championing changes in laws and policies impacting the wellbeing of all.

  • In addition to her groundbreaking work in nursing education and her revolutionary philosophies, Florence Nightingale blazed a trail in public health, staunchly advocating for reform regarding laws impacting the impoverished. She was a champion of prevention at the population level and pushed for specialized curriculums for nurses working in public health.
  • Lillian Wald was a stalwart champion of health and health care in immigrant and poverty-stricken communities. She founded both the National Organization for Public Health Nursing and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.
  • After working as a visiting community health nurse in New York City’s tenements, Margaret Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, which later became known as Planned Parenthood.
  • Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies through preparedness, assistance, and direct response efforts.

Thank you to the Florence Nightingales, Lillian Walds, Margaret Sangers, and Clara Bartons serving as Army Public Health Nurses today! You can take pride in sharing the convictions that drove these iconic nurses to greatness.

The U.S. Army Public Health Center focuses on promoting healthy people, communities, animals, and workplaces through the prevention of disease, injury, and disability of Soldiers, retirees, family members, veterans, Army civilian employees, and animals through population-based monitoring, investigations, and technical consultations.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, U.S. Army Medical Department or the U.S. Government.

The mention of any non-federal entity and/or its products is for informational purposes only, and not to be construed or interpreted, in any manner, as federal endorsement of that non-federal entity or its products.