In This Review

Soviet Nightingales: Care Under Communism
Soviet Nightingales: Care Under Communism
By Susan Grant
Cornell University Press, 2022, 336 pp.

Grant delves into a fascinating yet understudied topic: the history of nursing in the Soviet Union. The pre-revolutionary Sisters of Mercy were strongly associated with religious virtue but became increasingly secularized and professionalized during World War I. After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, these nurses were reinvented as Soviet medical workers. Any religious connections were banned, and political instruction became an indispensable element of nursing education. In 1920, the Sisters of Mercy became simply known as “sisters.” Grant emphasizes the incongruity between the brutal reality of the communist regime and its inexorable demand—even during Stalin’s Great Terror—that nurses be kind, caring, and devoted to their patients. The government took very seriously patients’ complaints about neglect or callousness on the part of nurses. Meanwhile, nurses suffered low wages, long shifts, and a chronic shortage of housing and often worked in dismal conditions without running water or functioning sewage systems. Grant admits that some of these problems also troubled nurses in Western countries, but even by the end of its existence, in 1991, the Soviet Union had not improved the lot of these workers.