Monday, May 12, is Florence Nightengale’s birthday. It is celebrated across the world as National Nurses Day as a day to honor the nurses in our lives and in our communities who chose careers to help others.
At critical times throughout our lives, nurses are there to provide comfort, support, education and caring. With clinical knowledge, skilled hands and caring hearts, nurses work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, health departments and many other agencies to lend a hand to those in need.
One of the nurses who made significant contributions to Bladen County was Mildred Irene Clark.
Clark was born on Jan. 30, 1915, in Elkton. She was the youngest of five children born to Martha and William James Clark. In 1936, Clark earned her diploma in nursing from the Baker Sanatorium Training School for Nurses in nearby Lumberton.
Clark enlisted in the Army in March 1938 at Fort Bragg and was sent to anesthesia school at the Jewish Hospital in Philadelphia, Pa. After graduating as a nurse anesthetist in 1940, 2nd Lt. Clark was ordered to Pearl Harbor, Hi., for service at the Army Hospital at Schofield Barracks. When the Japanese attacked U.S. Forces at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Clark ran from her barracks to the hospital and did not leave for almost three weeks. During that time, she delivered anesthesia to hundreds of men prior to their surgeries and nurses the wounded postoperatively.
After WWII, Clark was promoted assigned to Korea as director of nursing in the Army of Occupation. She initiated a training program for Korean nurses who later formed the nucleus of the Republic of Korea Army Nurse Corps.
Clark was appointed chief of the Army Nurse Corps in 1963 and, during her four-year term, several programs were initiated and upgraded. Clark established the Corps’ requirement that all nurses earn bachelor’s degrees; and, under Clark’s leadership, male nurses received commissions in the Regular Army for the first time.
Clark received many honors and awards for her years of service to the military and the country before her death in 1994. Her decorations and awards included: the Distinguished Service Medal; the Army Commendation with Oak Leaf Cluster; and award of excellence from Sigma Theta Tau, the national nursing honor society. She was honored by her hometown of Clarkton on Irene Clark Day and, perhaps her highest honor, which came after hear death in 1999, the U.S. Army dedicated the Mildred I. Clark Health Clinic at Fort Bragg — the first building named in honor of a woman there.
You can read more about notable North Carolina nurses online at www.nursinghistory.appstate.edu.
If you know other nurses whose stories should be included on the website, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Olivia Jenkins, RN, at email@example.com.
Happy Nurses Week.
Dr. Phoebe Pomitt, RN