This International Nurses Day we take a look back at a campaigner nurse from City’s past and one from our present, both pushing the boundaries of the profession to improve patient care and outcomes.

By Mr Shamim Quadir (Senior Communications Officer), Published (Updated )

Today is International Nurses Day and, as part of our celebrations, we take a look back at the work of Ethel Fenwick, a campaigner nurse from City’s past, and Rohit Sagoo, a campaigner nurse from our present. Both nurses dedicated to pushing the boundaries of the profession to improve patient care and outcomes.

Ethel Fenwick

Born in 1857, Ethel Bedford Fenwick campaigned for over 30 years for the establishment of a register for nurses. As Matron at St Bartholomew’s School of Nursing and Midwifery from 1881-1887, Ethel founded the Barts Training School for Nurses, which later became part of City, University of London in 1995.

She resigned her post at St Barts to marry Dr Bedford Fenwick (a surgeon of the Royal London Hospital) and retired from nursing practice. Together, they began campaigning for the state registration of nurses and the formalisation of training.

Initially, Ethel began to work with the Hospitals Association, but soon lost patience with their policies, which she saw as supporting the interests of hospital administrators rather than those of nurses. Ethel formed a breakaway group known as the British Nurses’ Association (BNA) at a meeting in her drawing room at 20, Upper Wimpole Street, London.

Ethel founded a number of organisations designed to support legislation to establish the nurses’ register, and proposed three main components to nursing training and education:

  • A three year period of training and education
  • A standardised national curriculum
  • A final examination

Despite the backing of the BNA, there was opposition to the establishment of a register and standardised education and training for nurses. Florence Nightingale and many doctors opposed the 'professionalisation' of nursing through registration, and there was a fear that registration would exclude many women who were either not sufficiently educated or did not have the means to undertake the necessary training and education.

Ethel founded a number of organisations designed to support legislation to establish the nurses’ register, including the Society for the State Registration of Nurses, founded in 1902 and the National Council of Nurses of Great Britain and Ireland founded in 1904. She and her co-campaigners lobbied tirelessly, ensuring that Bill after Bill for the introduction of state registration was brought before Parliament.

However, her hard work finally paid off, and in 1919 with the passing of the Nurses’ Registration Act, the register opened and Ethel became ‘nurse number 1’ on the register of nurses.

Reflecting on Ethel Fenwick’s influence, Professor Debra Salmon, a nurse and Dean of the School of Health Sciences at City, University of London said:

“We are immensely proud of our connection to Ethel, who was a woman of great energy and drive, who made an extraordinary contribution to nursing, and who still provides inspiration for health care professionals today”

Rohit Sagoo

Rohit joined the Division of Nursing at City, University of London earlier this year as Lecturer in Children’s Nursing. He was previously a Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University.

As well as becoming the first British-born, Asian male children's nurse in the UK, during the late 90's, Rohit more recently went on to found the British Sikh Nurses initiative in April, 2015.

The mission of British Sikh Nurses is to help raise awareness of physical and mental health issues, and provide education about maintaining wellbeing and healthy lifestyle choices within the Sikh community, wider BAME communities, and beyond.

Since its inception, British Sikh Nurses has delivered on a range of community work and projects in both India and the United Kingdom. Rohit has carried out projects in collaboration with the Department of Health and Social Care as well as participating in working with the Sikh Community on issues around mental health, organ donation, gender and abuse and the impact of diabetes.

With the Department of Health and Social Care, he has highlighted issues around organ donation, mental health and the impact of diabetes in the British Asian Community. His work with blood cancer charity DKMS on donor drives across the UK has increased stem cell donors from Asian communities by about 10,000 registrants. He has registered approximately 1,200, with three patients receiving a stem cell donor.

Often working alone, in his own time, Rohit has also engaged local Gurdwaras (meeting places for congregational worship) in London to support and create awareness to individuals from BAME (British Asian Minority Ethnic) backgrounds on the positive aspects of their health and wellbeing, such as monitoring blood glucose and blood pressure levels and giving health advice thereafter.

In 2019, Rohit was a finalist for the Community and General Practice Nursing Award from the Royal College of Nursing. He often appears in the media, both within the British Asian community and nationally, to talk about health issues affecting both the Sikh and wider BAME communities.

Our nursing staff and students today

We are so proud of what the nursing profession and the Division of Nursing at City, University of London has become today, and celebrate the contribution of every single nurse and nursing student this International Nurses Day, and International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

At a challenging time for the profession, many of our students have volunteered to work on placement within the NHS in the effort during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many staff members have volunteered or continued their roles during the effort also.

Speaking on the successes of all our staff, students and alumni, Julie Attenborough, nurse and Associate Dean, Director of Undergraduate Studies at the School of Health Sciences, said,

"At City we are proud of our nursing heritage and of the brave and pioneering nurses who paved the way for the profession. The recent Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated how crucial the role of nursing is to the health of society; both in prevention of ill health and care of the population."

Find out more about the Division of Nursing at City, University of London.

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