As the baby boom of the late 1940s and 50s was hitting full stride, and perhaps connected to this sudden bulge in the American population, hospitals were concerned about a shortage of nurses.

On May 19, 1956, The New York Times ran a piece reporting on the shortage of nurses and suggested that such a shortage was related to a lack in funding for educating nurses. The chief examiner for the Connecticut Board of Examiners for Nursing, Agnes Ohlson, said, “If we do not get the funds this year, we will be in a dilemma and the public in a sad state.”

And it was not as if there were not enough prospects for nursing. Rather, the problem was educating these interested candidates for nursing. Ohlson stated, “We have people ready to enter the field, but unless we can get the people to teach them, we cannot hope to solve the present shortage.”

As that same generation that probably contributed to the shortage of nurses during the 1950s now reaches retirement, there is another wave of demand for nursing.  Add to an aging population the prospect of more available healthcare which would boost the number of patients in America, and the need for trained nurses becomes all the more urgent.

But not just any nurses. A 2006 Newsweek article wonders if the number of fast-track and online nursing programs that have sprouted in response to the nurse shortage are providing the kind of training necessary. Perhaps even more important is the type of nurse prospects who are entering nursing school. Susan Stocker, writing in the The American Nurse, laments that nursing students are entering the profession for entirely different reasons than she did. She says that many of these students “don’t have a caring attitude.” She continues: “They have a goal and that goal is to get a job that pays a decent wage. The end.”

Maybe the nursing profession needs to rediscover its roots. In their book Called to Care, Judith Allen Shelly and Arlene B. Miller, recognize that nursing “developed out of a Christian worldview.” Postmodern thought has rattled the confidence of nearly all professions, and nursing is no exception. As a result, nursing stands in a quandary. The modern worldview, with its stress upon the “seen” world and the sciences, largely informed nursing education through most of the 20th Century. This created a view of the patient that tended to see them as a body made of nothing more than flesh, blood and bones.

Recently, however, nursing has sought to deepen its understanding of both the patient and the purpose of the nurse. Shelly and Miller cite Martha Rogers’ 1970 book, An Introduction to the Theoretical Basis of Nursing, as a watershed publication indicative of this shift. This newer approach to nursing that the authors call the “New Paradigm” is based upon the notion that the world is made up of “impersonal energy,” or one might call it a “force” that holds all things together and unifies all things. The authors claim that this New Paradigm is rooted in an array of religious sources, including “Eastern philosophy, Theosophy and traditional religions, including shamanism, Native American spirituality and Wicca.”

While this New Paradigm is correct to address the truncated view of the patient that shaped much of nursing education during the 20th Century, Shelly and Miller argue that the New Paradigm’s response is a faulty one. They offer a Christian understanding of nursing, claiming that the Christian worldview begins with a personal and Trinitarian creator-God who is not “in all” but set apart from creation. This God demonstrated His love by entering creation, fully embodied as a human, and died for the salvation of the world and was raised back to life and seated at the right hand of God. And this God, through the person of the Spirit, equips the believer to bear fruit, specifically, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Shelly and Miller describe nursing as “a ministry of compassionate care for the whole person, in response to God’s grace, which aims to foster optimum health (shalom) and bring comfort in suffering and death.”

The Christian commission for nursing is to engage the profession in response to God’s gracious actions in the world, demonstrated most perfectly in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Basing the nurse’s work on this understanding of God will affect every facet of the profession.

Nurses are needed—stat.  But what a sick and ailing world truly needs are nurses of a particular kind—nurses capable of compassionately caring for the sick, and for the totality of their being, not simply their physical needs.  These are the nurses who, by divine grace, can share the Gospel through both word and deed.

Casey Shutt is a Senior Writer for
The Baptist Messenger.