1. Alexander, Susan DNP, ANP-BC, ADM-BC

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Nurses work in hospitals, clinics and schools. They work on cruise ships, at summer camps and debate in the United States Congress. They are scientists, inventors and authors. They care for newborns when they take their first breath and the dying when they take their last. Nurses work everywhere, yet much of their work is unknown to the public. - -M.B. Modic and J. Fitzpatrick, Luminaries of the Past: Stories of Fifty Extraordinary Nurses, 2021


Although 2020 was designated by the 72nd World Health Assembly as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife,1 the global outbreak of COVID-19 left little time for nurses to celebrate their contributions to healthcare. As the effects of the pandemic spread throughout our communities and workplaces, the importance of the daily work of nurses was highlighted in a way we would never have dreamed possible in our careers. The profession of nursing continues to struggle with losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Valuable, experienced nurses have left bedside patient care because of stress, exhaustion, and failing health. Others lost jobs when healthcare delivery systems abruptly changed to meet care demands for COVID-19. Still more lost their lives and those of friends and family because of the disease. What is more troubling, and inestimable, is the loss of those who would have pursued careers in nursing but chose other paths after witnessing the risks that nurses encountered in caring for patients with COVID-19. Highlighting the importance of nursing to the world, and encouraging new talent to join the field, has never been more important.



Before COVID-19 permanently changed our world, authors Mary Beth Modic, DNP, APRN, FAAN, and Joyce J. Fitzpatrick, PhD, RN, FAAN, launched a writing project designed to capture the valuable contribution of nurses across healthcare. Chronicling the lives of nurses, their struggles to become a nurse, and the significant imprint each left on the world led to the publication of their book, Luminaries of the Past: Stories of Fifty Extraordinary Nurses. The book highlights the variety of places nurses work, beyond the traditional hospital setting. Deciding on an appropriate number of nurses and acquiring credible information about candidates selected for inclusion in the book was a laborious process as little information about the early lives or professional contributions for many nurses profiled in the book could be found. For example, Anita Dorr, a nurse who worked in the emergency department for many years, worked with her husband to design the prototype of the crash cart as nurses responded to emergencies on medical surgical units. Modic reached out to the Emergency Nurses Association who put her in contact with Joanne Fadale, a nurse who had worked with Anita Dorr. Fadale provided wonderful anecdotes and newspaper clippings recounting Dorr's significant impact upon the specialty of emergency nursing.


The authors also called upon their personal relationships with notable nurses for the book, as with Mary Elizabeth Carnegie, the first African American editor of a well-known nursing journal and the first editor of Nursing Research. Fitzpatrick has worked with other nurses featured in the book, such as Madeline Leininger, who was a nursing theorist and developer of the transcultural theory of nursing, and Vernice Ferguson, an African American nurse who headed the nursing department at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center and later became the chief nursing officer for the Veterans Administration and president of the American Academy of Nursing. Together, they selected a list of 50 nurses who had made significant contributions to the profession, dating back to the career of Florence Nightingale, hoping to introduce young readers to "[horizontal ellipsis]a remarkable group of women and men who had, sometimes against all odds, persevered in their goal to make the world better through nursing" (J. Fitzpatrick, oral communication, March 5, 2021).


At 121 pages, the book contains color illustrations of every nurse, a brief description of their early childhoods, and their dreams of a better world. Although many books describing the history of nursing have been published, the book by Modic and Fitzpatrick is notable for its target audience of preadolescents and adolescents in grades 6 to 8. The authors selected this audience in hopes of informing young people about the variety of opportunities available for careers in nursing.



Examples of the historical variety of nursing found in the book are especially relevant in a profession that needs diversity. A recent survey from the US Department of Health and Human Services (2019) describing the ethnicity of the nursing workforce found that 73% identified as White non-Hispanic, 10.2% were Hispanic/Latino, 7.8% were African American, 5.2% were Asian American, and 0.3% were Native American. In the survey, men represented 9.1% of registered nurses (2019).2 Modic and Fitzpatrick included stories of nurses who are known widely for their work (Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Mother Teresa, and Lillian Wald) along with members of other ethnic groups, whose names are less despite their significant contributions (Rufaida Al-Aslamia, Maude Callen, Kious Kelly, and Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail). Features of nurses' contributions integrate stories of US history and culture in describing the struggles of nontraditional ethnicities and genders. Examples include challenges faced by African Americans attempting to enroll in nursing schools during segregation and the discrimination faced by men who wanted to enter the profession.


Although most profiles in the book are about US nurses, stories of nurses from other countries are present. One example is that of Julita Sotejo, a nurse from the Philippines, who dreamt of nurses being educated in a university setting. Her dream was realized, and she served as the Dean of the First College of Nursing in the Philippines. Another profile features the life of Edith Cavell, a British nurse during World War I, who has been credited with saving the lives of approximately 200 Allied soldiers in her care. For her efforts, Cavell was arrested by the Germans and executed by a firing squad on October 12, 1915.



Despite the long hours of research, writing, and editing invested in their publication, the authors assert that they did not undertake the project for financial gain. Slated for release in early summer of 2021, the estimated cost to purchase a copy is $35 to $40, depending upon publication fees. Modic and Fitzpatrick have decided to invest funds earned from book sales in future leaders of nursing. They will donate all royalties from book sales to the Marian K. Shaughnessy Leadership Academy at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Case Western Reserve University. More information about the book can be found at the Leadership Academy's website (


Modic and Fitzpatrick are understandably proud of their work in bringing the history of nursing to life for young students. "Writing a book for children about nurses has been a dream of mine for years. I want to encourage children interested in science to consider nursing as a career worthy of their intellect and talent," says Modic (M.B. Modic, written communication, March 18, 2021). The book has been endorsed by the president of the American Nurses Association, the International Council of Nurses, and the American Organization for Nursing Leadership for its excellence in fostering a positive image of nursing. Although written for children in celebration of the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale and the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, the authors believe it will be a useful tool for new nursing students. States Fitzpatrick, "We really think this is a good view of the very different paths people chose to nursing[horizontal ellipsis]and of course, the wonderful things they did when they got into nursing." Bringing the history of nurses and their work to life will encourage new nurses and attract talented, capable young people to the field who might be encouraged to pursue careers in other professional fields.




1. US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, National Center for Health Workforce Analysis. Brief Summary Results from the 2018 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, Rockville, Maryland. 2019. [Context Link]


2. World Health Organization. State of the World's Nursing 2020: Investing in Education, Jobs, and Leadership. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2020. [Context Link]