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Indian Nurses – An Inexorable Journey

Recorded history of nursing in India begins in from 17th century before which a traditional birth attendant took care of maternal and child health needs in villages. Though East India Company started a hospital for soldiers in Madras in 1664 and military nursing was introduced in India, the extend of nursing related knowledge and information is not known. Subsequently, India witnessed building of numerous hospitals in different parts of the country. Still there is limited information as to the role of nursing in those hospitals. Florence Nightingale suggested a system of nursing for hospitals in India and with this goal sent some nurses that graduated from Nightingale School of Nurses in London to start nursing school in India. The first nursing training for Indian women was started in St. Stephens Hospital in Delhi in 1867. The 18th and 19th centuries witnessed birth of several nursing schools, mostly mission hospitals, that trained Indians. Each school had its own way of training and curriculum for nurses and midwives. In the first part of the 20th century, Mid India and South India Boards were set up and established standards and uniform education programs for the training schools in their jurisdiction and conducted examinations to award diplomas.

Today, Indian Nursing Council (INC), the autonomous body under the Government of India established in 1947, regulates standards and training for nurses. Currently there are 2909 INC recognized nursing schools in India providing education to thousands of women and men, awarding diplomas to auxiliary nurses and midwives to PhD to nurses.

Despite the level and number of graduating nurses, the nursing profession is still struggling for a adequate professional place and social status in India. Nurses’ working conditions in majority of the facilities have been unacceptably unfavorable and lack resources, their roles are undervalued, case load is unbelievably heavy, and they are being paid poorly. As the nurses started finding opportunities outside the country, initially to the middle east and then to richer countries like European nations, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States where they enjoyed far better working conditions, decent remuneration, much better professional status, growth and promotions, higher educational paths and social recognition. For many nurses, working in India is because they did not get an opportunity to fly out. The huge demand for nurses in the affluent countries pulled nurses to migrate out.

At the same time, increase in domestic need and outmigration of nurses have caused India in shortage of almost two million nurses to meet the healthcare needs. India is one of the two top countries from where nurses migrate to other countries. The beginning of Indian nurses’ migration to the United States can be attributed to several open immigration law that until 1965 favored migration from doors for people from Asia. Indians that came to the US as students or professionals were able to obtain letters from hospitals offering jobs. Using this letter, many nurses were able to fly in. Private hospitals that faced critical nursing shortage also brought in nurses from Philippines and India. Another major group of nurses that joined the nursing force in the US was through family-based visa avenues.

The Europe, opened up sponsoring. Currently 6 per cent of the estimated 500,00 foreign born registered nurses are Indians. Indian nurses are recognized to be playing an important role in the provision of healthcare and are well regarded by the society at large. They are more ambitious and are engaged in all disciplines of healthcare, availing the opportunities to contribute more through higher studies. Number of Indian nurses are providing treatment to patients as nurse practitioners is rapidly growing.

Nurses who have DNP or PhD are taking nursing profession to much higher level as nursing faculty or nurse scientists. As the organization of Indian Nurses in New York State, we are proud to promote nurses and nursing students in their thrust to be in the forefront of leadership through collaboration with universities and by providing continuing education as we have been professionally serving the community health education for better health and well-being

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