Shadowing a Doctor

May 9, 2016

In Celebration of National Nurses Week, we’ve put together a list of the ten most notable nurses in history. Check out their achievements below – they’ve certainly earnt their place in our Hall of Fame!

Edith Shain

Edith Shain, one of our 10 Most Notable Nurses

This iconic photograph, taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt, appeared in Life Magazine in 1945. The image of nurse Edith Shain kissing a young sailor came to epitomise the euphoria felt at the end of the Second World War.

Florence Nightingale

Often credited as the founder of modern nursing practice, Florence Nightingale is perhaps history’s most famous nurse. She trained in Egypt, Germany and France before returning to London to volunteer at the Establishment for Gentlewomen in London. When the Crimean War broke out in 1854, she worked tirelessly in military hospitals to tend to wounded and sick soldiers. Nightingale implemented fundamental changes to hospital procedures – making them more sanitary and helping to prevent the spread of infection and disease.

Walt Whitman

America’s most beloved poet, Walt Whitman, worked as a nurse during the Civil War, while his brother served on the battlefields. Whitman’s experience in the hospitals influenced his book ‘The Great Army of the Sick’ which was published in 1863.

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole was a black Jamaican nurse who, because of her skin colour, was rejected at least four times from providing nursing aide to British soldiers during the Crimean War. She eventually funded her own trip to Crimea, where she set up a nursing facility right on the conflict’s front line. She was later awarded medals for her bravery and unselfish acts.

Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell was a dedicated nurse educator who pioneered Belgium’s first nursing journal. She became world renown for her humanitarian efforts during the First World War – harbouring Allied soldiers and helping them to escape from enemy forces – for which she was later executed. Her bravery and compassion have inspired countless monuments, memorials and schools to be erected in her honour.

“I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved.” – Edith Cavell

Margaret Sanger

As the founder of Planned Parenthood and a staunch pioneer of women’s rights to birth control, Margaret Sanger laid the groundwork for contemporary attitudes towards women’s health. Throughout her career, she fought tirelessly to bring women access to the contraception they desperately wanted. She endured severe criticism, and – to this day – remains a highly controversial figure.

Virginia Avenel Henderson

Known as the first lady of nursing, Virginia Avenel Henderson developed the Nursing Theory that continues to underpin nursing education today. She trained in the army and spent her first few years in the profession as a public health nurse, before becoming the first full-time nursing instructor at the Norfolk Protestant School of Nursing in Virginia. While teaching, Henderson campaigned for psychiatric nursing to be included on the state syllabus.

Sarah Emma Edmonds

Canadian-born nurse Sarah Emma Edmonds is most famous for disguising herself as a man to serve in the American Civil War; working as a male nurse alongside the 2nd Michigan Infantry, before her career took a turn and she began to spy for the Union. Her exploits are documented in the book ‘Soldier, Nurse and Spy in the Union Army’.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton – nicknamed ‘Angel of the Battlefield’ – was an educator, nurse and founder of the American Red Cross. She was an independent nurse during the Civil War and worked with the International Red Cross while visiting Europe. When she returned to the US, she lobbied for a US branch; it opened in 1881, and she served as the first president.

Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix was an American nurse and activist who spent most of her life campaigning for better treatment of the mentally ill. She is credited with opening the first mental asylum in the US, and reforming the treatment of mental health issues. She served as a Superintendent of Army Nurses during the Civil War.

If you’re inspired by our the fearlessness and dedication of these nurses, why not complete one of our nursing placements?


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.