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The Men in Nursing History






The nursing profession has a very rich and colorful history. Long before the era of modern nursing, the military and religious orders already provided nursing care to individuals and families, focusing on hygiene and comfort. This practice of providing nursing-like activities flourished until the 16th century when the world witnessed the breakdown of many religious orders resulting in the deterioration of nursing care. 

As soon as we started nursing school, we acquainted ourselves with the most popular women in nursing history. Florence Nightingale, Dorothea Dix, Virginia Henderson, and Clara Barton are immortalized in nursing textbooks. We are not only familiar with these women leaders but we studied their contributions to the nursing profession as well. 

Unknown to many, there were men who helped make the nursing profession become what it is today. As early as 300 A.D., a group of male nurses called the parabolani (or parabalani) devoted their lives to providing direct nursing care to those who needed it. These selfless men established a hospital and cared for the sick and buried the dead during various plagues that swept Europe. 

Male nurses from various religious orders practiced nursing throughout the Middle Ages. Benedict of Nursia or St. Benedict, founded the Benedictine Order, a religious organization devoted to the care of the sick. 


In the 14th century, the Alexian Brothers cared for those who were sticken with the bubonic plague. The Alexians are widely recognized for helping many communities survive the Black Death, the most vicious pandemic in human history. 


St. John of God and St. Camillus of Lellis were also nurses. St. John of God was a Portuguese-born priest who devoted his life to caring for the sick and poor. He is the patron saint of hospitals, the sick, and nurses. St. Camillus, on the other hand, was a military man who established the Order of Clerks, Minister of the Sick. He was also the first to use the red cross as a symbol charity and service.  Other military and lay orders were also involved in the practice of nursing during these times. 

During the 18th century, a slave named James Derham, purchased his freedom by becoming a nurse. Although he did not have a medical degree, he proceeded to practice medicine and became the first African-American to formally open a medical practice in the United States. During the Civil War, a poet named Walt Whitman volunteered to work as a hospital nurse in Washington, D.C. 

There may be a few men who became popular in nursing history but their contributions undeniably helped nursing evolve into a highly specialized profession devoted to the delivery of sustainable healthcare to individuals, families, and communities. And like Florence Nightingale, they practiced nursing because they wanted to care for the sick and provide comfort for the poor. 

We hope that when asked who were the famous male nurses in nursing history, you can now confidently give an answer. You are not expected to remember all the names mentioned in this article, but perhaps, you can at least name one.

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