Sunday 23 June 2024
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Remembering the UK’s first registered nurse – who trained in Nottingham

Next week, schoolchildren, dignitaries and representatives from across nursing will be celebrating the life and work of Ethel Gordon Fenwick and the restoration of her grave.

Ethel was the first professional registered nurse in the UK and started her training at Nottingham Children’s Hospital when she was 21.

‘She set the foundations of where we are today.’

As a young child, Ethel moved from Scotland to Nottinghamshire where she grew up in Thoroton in the Vale of Belvoir. After beginning her career in Nottingham, and following moves to Manchester and London, she dedicated her time to reforming nursing.

In an effort to protect nurses and patient care, Ethel campaigned for nursing to be regulated and in 1919, the Nurses’ Registration Act was passed. A few year later, Ethel appeared as ‘Nurse No.1’ when the register opened in 1923.

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Service of thanksgiving

A special service celebrating the life of Ethel is being held next week at St Helena’s Church in Thoroton. The thanksgiving event will also recognise the work of the Ethel Gordon Fenwick Commemorative Partnership and the donation made by the International Council of Nurses to restore Ethel’s grave.

Caroline Kirk (pictured), an Advanced Clinical Practitioner in Trauma Orthopaedics at NUH, has been asked to make a speech about Ethel’s legacy, representing as a nurse. Caroline’s role shows how nursing has developed since Ethel’s work:

“It’s an honour and privilege to be invited to such an important commemorative service, particularly when you look at the guest list!

“I feel very proud to be standing and speaking on behalf of nursing. I am in this role today because of the campaigning that Ethel did all those years ago.”

Caroline works across Trauma and Orthopaedics in both inpatient and outpatient at QMC, close to where Ethel trained in the Children’s Hospital, and that is something very special:

“Ethel trained at Nottingham, here in the Children’s Hospital, she was the first ever registered nurse in the UK, appearing as Nurse number one on the register! She was the first nurse to fiercely campaign to get those standards of nursing care and professionalism. Her roots are in Nottingham, and it’s important to remember that. This is to be celebrated!

“I am grateful for the early work of Ethel when I reflect on my fabulous career and the opportunities I’ve had into education. She was such an influential character and we should all be aware of this important lady. She set the foundations of where we are today.”


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