Is nursing a noble profession?

The 12th of May is internationally commemorated as Nursing Day, due to the birth of the so-called mother of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. It is worth mentioning that many of these professionals do not always coincide with the date and founder as a symbol and representation of the discipline and profession. Nevertheless, they all recognise the trajectory and influence that Florence Nightingale had in the transformation of nursing as a science, as well as for the development of statistics and epidemiology in its interior of the public health system.

By Karla Ivonne Mijangos Fuentes

It is from this contextualisation that every 12 May various tributes are paid to the profession and to nursing professionals. With the exception of the two years of the pandemic, when the celebrations were suspended until the post-reactivation date, when messages, evidence and celebrations of nurses were once again notorious. And it is there, among the virtual messages that the initiative of this note arises, because in the reading of the multiple speeches different phrases were read, but there was one, specifically, that said: “Happy International Nurses’ Day. My RECOGNITION AND RESPECT TO SUCH A NOBLE PROFESSION”.

And it is from this idea, that the intention overflowing with doubts was noted by asking her to various nursing professionals about the definition they assign to the concept “noble profession”, from the questioning Can nursing be referred to as noble? It is obvious that the responses were received on the social networks, which dealt with the religious and military origins of the profession, and also, due to the medieval times which was where nursing was institutionalised.

In this respect, the note presented here attempts to offer a concise explanation of the origin and preservation of the vision of nobility that nursing professionals themselves have institutionalised. And how this subjectivity is related to Judeo-Christian and military postulates, previously named by the nurses themselves.

Nobiliary power/control of patrimonies

In a first approach, it is necessary to discuss nobility in order to talk about nobles, and more than talking about nobles, we have to reflect on noble power. In this sense, nobles were identified on the basis of the nobiliary power they held in the family structure, kinship structures and inheritance, in general, in the control of the estates they held through the public fame and social prestige of their lineages.

By lineages we mean all those groups of descendants of a common ancestor, who were identified on the basis of a regulatory framework that controlled hereditary successions and the adoption of an identifying surname. A surname that maintained the status quo of the clan. In this line, the nobles were named on a patrilineal line (a male line) of symbolic attributions, emblematic surnames, public fame and economic, material and human properties. In this sense, the nobles were read through the genealogy of their lineages, the exploits and merits of their ancestors and the historiographical traditions of nobility.

Thus, we return to the first idea of noble power and the preservation of the patrilineal heritage that each and every member of the clan had to safeguard, because the nurse, as part of a professional lineage, as well as being the female member of the family, had to maintain the symbolic, moral, religious and class attributions that followed the reproduction of the lineage to which she belonged.

In this sense, the identifying surname that gave nursing to be part of a lineage of the medical professional family, obliged her to maintain a behaviour closely linked to the rules and norms of a noble woman of the feudal era; all this, and with the aim of maintaining the status quo of the medical lineage and the social, moral, ethical and aesthetic role assigned to her as a member of that family.

From this idea, it can be seen that for modern nurses, being named as such means carrying a surname that offers them the possibility of “social prestige”, but also the misfortune of belonging to a medical lineage that assigns them a family role within the health professions, which they will have to keep intact, as well as reproduce unchanged so that the historiographical tradition of nobility is transmitted to each of the new members.

Nobility and Nursing

The assigned nickname of nobility, rather than being distinguished by the fact of having possessions, power, social class and ancestry, represents a manifesto that brings together certain characteristics, for example, an example of human in masculine, having a certain and excellent way of doing things, as well as representing a genre of military class bravery; it is worth mentioning that the genre refers to the role, attitudes and aptitudes of a brave man that were required to be named as a nobleman.

However, the fact of being appointed as a nobleman was not always related to being of the High Nobility, that is, the aristocracy and monarchy (Fuertes, 2010). Meanwhile, the military, nuns, masters and knight-royalty brotherhoods belonged to the corporate nobility, an intermediate category that exceeded the simple nobility, although it did not reach the title of the kingdom or High Nobility either.

From this perspective, it was said that the military and religious nobleman had to live for combat, for risk and adventure; taking as adventure the conscious and/or calculated, serious risk, which was more likely to be unsuccessful, but which guaranteed the greatest satisfaction, because they felt that they were fulfilling excellently the good for which they existed, that is, what gave meaning to their life.

As Pliny Corréa de Oliveira said, “this good was a life of immolation for something immensely greater than himself, something he admired and in whose greatness he participated (…) this because the nobility lived for the faith, lived for the church, for the common good of Christian society”. From this look, the morality of the nobleman was built from this common good of faith and the sense of life that indicated them to throw themselves and go to the end, to risk the extreme, the heartbreaking suffering and everything that everyone flees from, with the aim of facing up to everything in order to save moral reason, virtue, the honour of the lineage, the Christian faith and humanity in its extension.

From this data, we understand that nursing professionals congratulate each other on the basis of this idea of noble profession, above all, because it is known that modern nursing is sustained by its religious and military pillars, therefore, the character of nobility that nursing has subjectivised, is none other than that of the genre of bravery that will give everything, even its life, to save humanity and to conserve each and every one of the moral institutions and noble power that being part of the corporate nobility grants it.

Although nobility is a very old concept and typical of the disappeared medieval society of the East and West, it is a way of being and being in the world, because it is considered that similar to the category of class, nobility is an organiser of gender and/or allocation of roles dictated by the military and religious hierarchy, in addition, the term nobility by itself is already talking about a specific and marked sexual division of work, therefore, it makes clear the position, meaning, behaviour and tasks that nursing must maintain in order to continue conserving the title of noble profession.

As an anecdote, Menéndez Pidal reminds us that the noble idea, besides representing the material and spiritual inheritance, the reproduction of the patrilineal and heroic lineage, also implies the merit and effort that each of the nobles of middle or low nobility make to reach a higher or aristocratic social level, due to the fact that the possibility of promotion was always open to all those capable of shining for their capacity for excellence and bravery.

Therefore, it is not strange to see that many of the military and religious men and women who took part in the various wars of world history have been buried with a tombstone that renamed them as people of the High Nobility, due to their real history of struggle and effort. However, we can see that this has been a void effort to give them a name, because they will never achieve the title of the kingdom because they do not have the heritage of a royal lineage.

Likewise, nursing is located in that void of not being, in that space of feeling part of the middle nobility, although subordinated by the doctor, and of wanting to reach high standards of aristocratic societies, from conserving and reproducing the catalytic elements of a nobleman; those that determine ways of behaving, but also that internalise a sense of life of risk and constant immolation, for the sole fact of “being”, or rather, of pretending to be “a noble profession”.

Should nursing still be called a noble profession?

The response undoubtedly cannot be enunciated or assigned by us, because the agents of pronouncement and self-appointment must be the nursing professionals themselves, but with this note we realise that nursing acquires the nickname of “noble profession”, from a historiographical framework that configured and instituted it on rules of behaviour that govern the military and religious nobles.

In this sense, the pronouncement of nursing as a “noble profession” leads to a political and ethical stance of naming and moral and ethical identity, which preserves the assigned mandates of the Middle and Lower Nobility social class, which carry implicit in their denomination the assumed risk of self-suffering, bravery and self-sacrifice _if necessary_ to preserve in its totality the inheritance and genetics of the lineage that was assigned to them.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that nursing professionals did not vary in their responses when they pointed out that the term nobility had a strong association with the Judeo-Christian and military moral value instilled in nursing as a modern profession. However, we recognise that when nobility is used as a term, they are reproducing a standard and canon of social class that instead of privileging them, places them in a place of non-existence and political non-recognition.


Acción familia (2022). The role of the nobility in Christian civilisation. Press release. Acción familia; ideal category of society. Available at:

Diago, Máximo. (2006). The power of the nobility in the regional ambits of the Crown of Castile at the end of the Middle Ages: the political strategies of the great lineages in La Rioja until the Communist revolt. Hispania, revista española de historia; 223 (LXVI): 501-46.

Fuertes, Manuel (2010). Social bases of emblematics: aristocracy and nobility, past and present. Emblemata; 16: 185-202.

REHUNO – Red Humanista de Noticias en Salud