Badlands at the bedside : fact or fiction
journal contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by Wendy Madsen
Professional nurses began to emerge as an identifiable group from the late nineteenth century. Their establishment and eventual domination of nursing was characterised by separation and antagonism as they asserted themselves over untrained nurses. This paper examines the struggle for professional domination as it occurred in Australia during the early twentieth century, and particularly focuses on the accusations of unsafe practice levelled at untrained nurses. This tactic drew on public images of untrained nurses depicted by nineteenth century authors such as Charles Dickens. Thus, a ‘badlands’ concept was created in the minds of professional nurses, whereby untrained nurses at the bedside in private homes were actively endangering the lives of their patients because of lack of skill and knowledge. However, recent historical research has increasingly challenged such images, and suggests that while many nurses did not have formal training, they were not necessarily unsafe or ineffective in their practice.