"Reform can be accomplished only when attitudes are changed." — Lillian Wald
One of my favorite historical figures in nursing was Lillian D. Wald (1867-1940). Lillian understood first hand Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) long before we coined the term. In her book, “The House on Henry Street,” she shares her experience as a nurse at the turn of the 20th century in New York’s Lower Eastside. Seeing first hand the significant disparities of care and suffering, Lilian pioneered programs that brought health and healthcare to the disenfranchised and working poor. Much like Florence Nightingale, Lillian understood the importance of detailed record-keeping and data. Wald and the nurses who work with her kept records not only on the care they provided, but also on the cost of care. Her ability to demonstrate the value she and her nurses provided in the community led to Metropolitan Life Insurance Company offering nursing services to its policyholders; a move other insurance companies would follow in the years to come.
Lillian never imagined that her work would eventually grow into the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY); that she would set the foundation for population health, or that a Nurse Informaticist 80 years after her death would still be inspired by her. She was a human rights advocate, a voice for Immigrants, an innovator, a nursing leader, and much more. Perhaps most intriguing is that she did not follow the traditional path, did not take no for an answer, advocated for those who felt they did not have a voice, and transformed healthcare. President Franklin Roosevelt referred to Lillian as “one of the least known, yet most important people of her time.” As we celebrate the contributions of all Nurses this week, we remember those who blazed the trail and those who continue to carry the flame. Happy Nurse Week!