Shirley Fondiller, R.N., is editor of The
American Nurse, the official newspaper of
the American Nurses1 Association.
It is more than coincidence that the
American Nurses' Association's (ANA)
"1977 RN—Year of the Nurse" public relations program occurs during the year of
the National Women's Conference. The
publicity campaign aims to replace the
public's "handmaiden" image of nursing
with a recognition of nurses as independent
professional health care providers.
Ninety-eight per cent of all registered
nurses in the United States are women.
Nurses make up the second largest professional group of women and represent the
largest occupation among health care
Because of their large population
base, nurses have been vulnerable to the
same discriminatory practices accorded to
all women in society. Six years ago the
ANA voted to support the Equal Rights
Amendment and since then the group has
become an effective advocate for its ratification.
The nearly universal oppression of
women in general has deeply affected the
character as well as the advancement of
professional nursing. Unquestionably, the
domination of nurses in the nation's hospitals, created by social misconceptions
and fostered by medical paternalism, has
greatly deterred nursing's potential contribution to the field of health care. Through
the years, opportunities for nurses to initiate reform have been impeded by the
authoritarian nature of the institution
with hospital administrators and physicians
in control of nursing education (the hospital school), hospital profits and male
Traditionally, most nurses have accepted their unequal status without challenging the inequities or instituting corrective action. Spurred on by the women's
movement, however, nurses are emerging
from the dependent mold that held them
in the past. A step in the right direction has
been the marked development of basic
nursing education within colleges and universities, where nurses can acquire the scientific knowledge base necessary for professional practice as well as exposure to
different theories of change and risk-
taking. How nurses, and all women, accept
change and understand the strategies connected with it will largely determine their
sense of self-esteem, their power and their
control over their lives.
Nurses today-are better educated and
more accountable for their practice. Just
as the contemporary woman is leaving
traditional positions for other opportunities, nurses also are designing new models
of what health delivery should be.
The formation in 1974 of the Nurses'
Coalition for Action in Politics (N-CAP)
demonstrated a growing awareness among
nurses to organize for political action. Established as the political education arm of
ANA, N-CAP endorsed congressional candidates during the 1976 national elections
and came up with a success factor of 91.5
per cent (173 of 189 N-CAP-endorsed
candidates were elected).
Nursing's relationship with medicine
has also taken on new dimensions. The
lional Joint Practice Commission, whose
16 members consist equally of nurses and
physicians, was established in 1972 by the
ANA and the American Medical Association to explore relationships between the
The mandate of International Women's Year includes men as well as women;
nurses need to realize that equality of^
rights and opportunities works both ways.
They must give recognition to the small
(in number) but nonetheless important
group of men in nursing who are contributing to the profession. And in a larger
context, the same concept can be applied
to the women's movement in general, for
it will take the support of understanding
men to help make ratification of the
Equal Rights Amendment a reality.
Mary Louise Smith, former chair of
the Republican National Committee and a
delegate at the women's conference, said
that she "deplores the terms" Harris
County Republican Chair Jerry Smith
used when he described conferees as "a
gaggle of outcasts, misfits and rejects."
Smith pointed out that Republican women attending the conference include Betty
Ford, the Michigan governor's wife and the
president of the National Federation of
"Their contribution to the quality
of our way of life cannot be damaged by
name-calling," said Smith, and asked the
county chair to come meet some of the
delegates and see'for himself.
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DAILY BREAKTHROUGH NOVEMBER 20, 1977 PAGE 23