Friday, May 9, 2014

Unveiling a legacy

PERFECT PRESENTION: Slavin, left, and Ives Erickson

A new portrait of Linda Richards, America’s first professionally trained nurse and superintendent of the Boston Training School at MGH from 1874 to 1877, reveals an image of a heroic leader, innovator and champion of nursing.

“We owe so much to Linda Richards,” said Jeanette Ives Erickson, RN, DNP, FAAN, senior vice president for Patient Care and chief nurse. “She was a truly remarkable and understated individual, woman and nurse and a true pioneer who devoted her life and career to her ideal of what nursing could be.”

The recently commissioned portrait of Richards was unveiled at the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation on May 6 – one of the many events to celebrate Nurse Recognition Week at the hospital.

MGH President Peter L. Slavin, MD, offered opening remarks. “We see the legacy of Linda Richards in our commitment to ensuring we have a highly educated and dedicated nursing workforce. We see Linda Richards’ legacy in the compassion, skills and critical thinking that are a common thread in every nurse-patient interaction throughout the MGH community.”

When Richards became superintendent of the Boston Training School at MGH, the school was on the brink of closure. Under Richards’ leadership, the institution was transformed into one of the preeminent nurse training programs in the country, and the evolution of nursing as a profession began. Richards organized the nurses and their duties, placed a nurse and assistant in charge of each ward, appointed night duty nurses and hired scrub women to wash bandages and mop floors. Richards won over the doctors and transformed the hospital. This was Richards’ first superintendent position in a nearly 40-year-long career dedicated to establishing or reorganizing schools of nursing.

Richards left the Boston Training School in 1877 to spend several months in England studying hospitals run under the Florence Nightingale system before returning to the United States. She later spent five years as a medical missionary in Kyoto, Japan, where she established that country’s first school of nursing.

“Linda Richards not only helped to establish professional nursing in America and in Japan, she also organized or reorganized more than a dozen training schools for nurses, furthering her vision for establishing the role of the trained nurse,” said Ives Erickson.

Artists Warren and Lucia Prosperi, who created the Ether Dome mural and whose work appears in acclaimed museums and galleries, were commissioned to create Richards’ portrait, described by Ives Erickson as a “labor of love.”

“The portrait has immense significance,” said Natasha McEnroe, director of the Florence Nightingale Museum in London and a guest speaker at the event. “It doesn’t just represent a remarkable life, and it doesn’t just represent the importance of MGH history, it also symbolizes the amazing work that Boston nurses do today.”

The final days of Richards’ life were spent at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, where more than 50 years prior, she had become America’s first trained nurse. At the time of her death in 1930, there were 294,268 trained nurses in the United States.

The portrait will be on display in the museum throughout the month of May.

Read more articles from the 05/09/14 Hotline issue.


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