For more than a century, nurses have served as the cornerstone of public health efforts in this country. Most Americans at some point in their lives have had contact with a public health nurse. It's hard to live for very long without meeting one. Remember the school nurse who made sure your vaccinations were up to date and bandaged the cuts and bruises you suffered during recess? She was a public health nurse. Have you or a member of your family ever needed the services of a visiting nurse to care for someone at home? She—and it was almost always a woman—was a public health nurse, too.
Jean C. Whelan, PhD, RN, is assistant director, Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, and adjunct associate professor of nursing, University of Pennsylvania.