Nursing Book Club

Taking Care By Sarah DiGregorio

The Story of Nursing and Its Power to Change Our World

Pink-and-orange cover of the book Taking Care next to photo of the author Sarah DiGregorio, wearing a black blouse and a big smile.

Freelance journalist Sarah DiGregorio is not a nurse, but she has had intimate exposure to nursing through the death of her mother, her own emergency surgery, and the premature birth of her daughter (recounted in her previous book, Early), as well as interactions with public health nurses.

Those experiences convinced her that “the relationship between patient and nurse is the foundation of all health care.” Her research revealed that nurses are the largest group of healthcare professionals providing direct patient care.

This is something we realized long ago, and yet the general public seems to think that it’s doctors who dictate the health of our communities. In her book Taking Care, DiGregorio seeks to challenge that perception and demonstrate why and how “nursing as a profession is, and always has been, uncommonly complicated and uncommonly powerful.”

Ancient History

She begins with the origins of nursing history, paying tribute to the development of the craft as its own profession. As DiGregorio sees it, the history of nursing really starts thousands of years ago with the people in each community who cared for the ill, attended to mothers and newborns, and understood the benefits of medicinal herbs. She notes that while history is a series of wars, armies cannot fight without people to support the wounded. Thus, there have always been nurses: people with a body of special healing knowledge.

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So, why do we think our history started with Florence Nightingale and know so little about early  nursing? DiGregorio points to the 1847 founding of the American Medical Association, which quickly decried the practice of “irregular” medical providers, including midwives and other lay practitioners.

This opposition continues to the present when nurse practitioners in many states are still only allowed to practice under supervision of a physician (and physician organizations still turn out in force to fight any expansion of practice). Worldwide, there are 27 million nurses, and yet we continue to fight for the respect we deserve.

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Subsequent chapters tell the stories of nurses who have championed hospice care, community healthcare, addiction care, and access to good healthcare as a basic right. The author interviews nurse activists who work with migrants to oppose climate change and nurse labor leaders who try to wrest control of their patients’ healthcare from insurance companies and corporate hospital management.

The interviews presented in each chapter are fascinating and powerful. Her subjects are nurses to the bone: proud of who they are and what they have accomplished. Nursing is not just a job to them — it is what they were called to do and is their singular vocation.

I have to admit that when I entered nursing school, I barely understood any of this, at least on a conscious level. Now, over four decades later, I wish I could make this required reading in every nurse’s training. Everyone who reads it will come away with a better sense of where we came from and what we’re capable of.

Taking Care: The Story of Nursing and Its Power to Change the World by Sarah DiGregorio (Harper Collins, 2023)

CHRISTINE CONTILLO, RN, BSN, PHN, is a public health nurse with over 40 years experience.

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