This week we’re featuring Duties to Self: The Nurse as a Person of Dignity and Worth , from Creative Nursing. Author Marsha Fowler, PhD, MDiv, MS, RN, FAAN, explained how the shift in nursing education has informed current nurses how to take care of themselves while furthering their careers. Read more below:

Until the mid-1960s the vast majority of nursing education took place in hospital-based “diploma programs.”  This means that there are still some nurses, active today, who graduated from those programs before nursing moved into colleges and universities.  That move resulted in the loss of a treasure trove of early nursing textbooks from the late 1800s to the mid-1960s as these books were not brought over into universities. It is a captivating literature that includes everything from recipes for gruel, porridge, and possets to treatments such as hot abdominal stupes, applying a scultetus binder or mustard plaster, swaddling a baby, and in later years managing a patient in an iron lung. It is also a literature that gives as much time to ethics as it does to nursing education and practice.


This ethical literature is absolutely captivating as it is both strikingly different from what one sees in the contemporary bioethics literature and it is utterly nursing focused and harmonious with nursing’s values, ideals, and aspirations.  There are many wonderful and informative strands within this ethics literature, but one prominent thread is the nurse’s obligation to care for herself (and himself today).  This self-care thread covered everything in the nurse’s life—rest, recreation, nutrition, sleep, friendships, uplifting reading, going to movies, taking vacations, saving for retirement, personal as well as professional self-development and, of course, a constant and intentional growth of one’s nursing knowledge and skill. It is striking that today’s bioethics literature does not “care for the nurse” herself or himself.  It is even more striking that, given the great importance of this obligation in the first 100 years of nursing ethics literature, that nurses today so often neglect their own needs.

You can read more of Dr. Fowler’s research on the history of nursing and self-care here. To subscribe to Creative Nursing, click here.

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