Russian nursing
Pirogov and the Grand Duchess
in Beyond Nightingale
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This chapter is developed in the context of the Russian army, which was deeply permeated with corruption and graft. It was essentially an eighteenth-century army in the 1850s, fighting industrialized countries. The soldiers were basically all serfs; in the officer corps there were dramatic contrasts between ignorance and incompetence at one end and intelligence, energy, and cosmopolitan professionalism at the other. This was also true of the medical department and its nurses, the ‘feldshers.’ The internationally renowned surgeon Nikolai Ivanovitch Pirogov, who became director of the nursing service, is introduced, as is the widowed sister-in-law of the Tsar, Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, his patron at the imperial court. She had the daring idea of sending female nurses to work on the battlefield. Together these two individuals established the Sisters of the Exaltation of the Cross, a lay sisterhood of clinically trained nurses devoted entirely to military nursing. Local women had come forward to help with the nursing, but once the trained Sisters arrived they were so superior that the local women were relegated to minor roles. On arrival in the Crimea, Pirogov immediately began organizing and vastly improving the hospitals.

Beyond Nightingale

Nursing on the Crimean War battlefields

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