It is National Nurses Week, a time when we recognize and appreciate the vital role nurses play in health care. As medical doctors, we understand firsthand the significance of nurses in enabling us to fulfill our responsibilities effectively.
I have a saying that emphasizes the importance of nurses to physicians:
If the doctor is good and the nurse is good, the patient will be well.
If the doctor is bad but the nurse is good, the patient will be OK.
If the doctor is good but the nurse is bad, the patient is not well.
If the doctor is bad and the nurse is bad, the patient is dead.
While my passion for medicine dates back to my childhood, I always envisioned myself as a medical doctor, not considering nursing as a prominent health care role. In my native country of Nigeria, doctors received most of the recognition for patient care, followed by pharmacists who assumed nursing-like duties.
During high school, I joined the Nigerian Red Cross, which fueled my aspirations of becoming a legitimate medical professional. It was during this time that I discovered Florence Nightingale, often hailed as the Founder of Modern Nursing. In fact, I recently added a children’s book about her to my library, ensuring my kids learn about this influential woman.
However, my perspective changed when I stumbled upon an article by Sarah DiGregorio, the author of Taking Care: The Story of Nursing and Its Power to Change Our World. The article shed new light on the founders of modern nursing, particularly Mary Seacole, also known as the “Black Nightingale.” Seacole served alongside Nightingale in the Crimean War, without the official title of “nurse” or government support. DiGregorio’s insightful article challenges the notion that Nightingale, an upper-class Caucasian woman of her time, should solely be credited as the Founder of Nursing, given the evidence of nursing practices across various cultures dating back 4,000 years. I highly recommend reading the article here, as it offers valuable perspectives. Additionally, I’m eager to read DiGregorio’s new book, which I’ve added to my reading list.
DiGregorio referenced a poem by Salman Rushdie that stated, “Here is Mary Seacole, who did as much in the Crimea as another magic-lamping lady, but, being dark, could scarce be seen for the flame of Florence’s candle.” As a Black woman, I felt a certain degree of guilt for not being familiar with Mary Seacole, prompting me to take immediate action. I ordered her autobiographical book, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, and In Search of Mary Seacole: The Making of a Black Cultural Icon and Humanitarian by Helen Rappaport, aiming to learn more about this remarkable woman and honor her contributions to medicine.
During this Nurses Week, let us, as physicians, celebrate and acknowledge the invaluable role our nurses play in delivering safe, timely, and effective care. Happy Nurses Week!
Rosemary Eseh-Logue is an internal medicine physician.