The History of Community Nursing

The History of Community Nursingthumbnail
Community Nursing is a vital element in public health. (Photo: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images)

Community Health Nursing, originally called "Public Health Nursing" from 1900-1970, combines nursing science with public health science to formulate a community-based and population-focused practice, according to Judith Allender and Barbara Spradley in "Community Health Nursing." The overall goal is to improve the health of communities and vulnerable populations. The name "Community Health Nursing" was adopted in 1970, although "Public Health Nursing" was not abandoned, to better describe the place where the nurse practices.

The Beginnings

Florence Nightingale developed the idea of "Home Nursing". (Photo: Catherine Yeulet/iStock/Getty Images)

According to Mary Nies and Melanie McEwen in "Community/Public Health Nursing," modern Community Health Nursing can trace its history to London, England and New York City. In 1854-1856, London health care institutions developed "District Nursing." This referred to the community being divided into districts, each served by a nurse and social worker. In 1893, Florence Nightingale developed the idea of "Home Nursing." This idea charged the District Nurse with being a health educator as well as a nurse to the sick at home.
In 1877, in New York City, the Women's Board of New York City Mission sent Francis Root into the homes of the sick. Visiting Nurse Associations emerged in Buffalo in 1885 and in Boston and Philadelphia in 1886. However, in 1893 Lillian Ward established the "House on Henry Street." Ward's project was the origin of the Visiting Nurse Association of New York City. American Community Health Nurses trace their origins to Ward.


The work of nursing pioneers has pushed health care reforms forward. (Photo: Hongqi Zhang/iStock/Getty Images)

In the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, according to Janice Swanson and Mary Albrecht in "Community Health Nursing," there was a marked progress in improving societal health. The work of nursing pioneers like Nightingale, in England, and Ward, in the United States, focused on the collection and analysis of statistical data. Health care reforms, community empowerment and nursing education laid the groundwork for Community Health Nursing as it exists today.


Community Health Nursing focuses on individuals, families or small groups within the total population. (Photo: Catherine Yeulet/iStock/Getty Images)

"Community Health Nursing" is the commonly accepted title of this specialized field of nursing and the title is often used interchangeably with its predecessor, "Public Health Nursing." However, according to Nies and McEwen, a distinction between the two should be observed. Public Health Nursing is the practice of promoting and protecting the health of populations using knowledge, social and public health sciences. Community Health Nursing focuses on the individuals, families or small groups within the total population.

Further Identification

Duties and location of the community-based nurse's practice is setting specific. (Photo: AlexRaths/iStock/Getty Images)

Community/Public Health Nursing must be distinguished from "Community-based Nursing." According to Nies and McEwen, Community-based Nursing is the application of the nursing process in caring for individuals, families and groups where they "live, work or go to school, or as they move through the health care system." In short, the duties and location of the community-based nurse's practice is "setting-specific."


Community Health Nurses must be able to work with diverse communities. (Photo: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

According to Swanson and Albrecht, Community Health Nurses must have the knowledge and skills that enable them to work with diverse communities. They must have sensitivity to the groups within the community and respect for its established methods of managing problems. The Community Health Nurse emphasizes prevention and wellness. The nurse promotes client responsibility and self-care and uses principles of organizational theory with inter-professional collaboration to secure the health of the population.

  • "Community Health Nursing"; Judith Allender, Barbara Spradley; 2001
  • "Community/Public health Nursing"; Mary Nies, Melanie McEwen; 2007
  • "Community Health Nursing"; Janice Swanson, Mary Albrecht; 1993
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