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12 Oct 2023

New Zealand Registered Nurses


Medal of Honour

When nations, communities and most especially people are under threat, Nurses invariably are among the first to answer the call and come to the fore. Literally it is a profession born out of conflict and putting the wellbeing of the most vulnerable unquestionably first. 

Humans have always needed the help and healing powers from special people with special skills.  It was not until the 19th Century, however, that the profession of nursing shone through thanks to the passion, commitment and leadership of one Florence Nightingale. 

In 1854, under the authorization of Sidney Herbert, the British Secretary of War, Florence Nightingale brought a team of 38 volunteer nurses to care for the British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War.  Like many conflicts it involved several countries focussed on trying to limit the threat of Russian expansion into Europe.  Nightingale and her charges arrived at the military Barrack Hospital in Scutari, Turkey.  Rather than being a place of peace and recovery it was a hell hole of epic proportions.  The battle wounds themselves were horrific but the lack of sanitation was an even greater enemy.  Ten times more soldiers were dying of diseases such as typhus, typhoid, cholera, and dysentery than from the conflict.

Rather than playing everything ‘by the book’ her accomplishments during the disastrous years the British army experienced in the Crimea were largely the result of her concern with sanitation and its relation to mortality. Her ability to lead, organise and get things done saved lives as well as creating waves. 

She fought with those military officers that she considered incompetent; they, in turn, considered her unfeminine and a nuisance. She worked endlessly to care for the soldiers themselves, making her rounds during the night after the medical officers had retired. She thus gained the name of “the Lady with the Lamp,” and set the standards of excellence that are part of the nursing profession. 

Another conflict of a different kind, but with truly global implications, has brought the importance of Nurses into focus once again. At the start of the new decade in 2020 the first death—a man in Wuhan China—was reported on January 11th.  By January 20th reports from around the world indicated that an outbreak of pandemic proportions loomed on the horizon. The fight against Covid-19 was underway. 

New Zealand Nurses have been at the forefront of care and unselfish sacrifice.  A New Zealand nurse from Invercargill is credited as being one of a team who saved the then (2021) UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s life.  Nurses have brought comfort to those afflicted with the virus and have been those holding beside vigils for the people who died from Covid-19. 

In other countries Nurses have had to battle other forces to ensure they never lose sight of what matters in their profession. Including people hell bent on trying to thwart their efforts. 

The Selwyn Foundation salutes Nurses—locally to globally—and particularly those in our ‘family’ who are leading, and serving, by example. 

Annually on May 12th, coinciding with Florence Nightingale’s birthday, in many countries, including New Zealand, it marks a week of commemoration for the nursing profession. A chance to wear your Nursing Medal with pride.  Plus be recognised for the heroic, and often unsung, work performed. 

For information about New Zealand Enrolled Nurse, Registered Nurse, and Nurse Practitioner: qualifications, required competencies, and scopes of practice go to the website www.nursingcouncil.org.nz

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Date Published: May 2020

Reviewed: September 2022

To be reviewed: September 2025