History of Nursing Contribution to Public Health Development in Hong Kong: Lessons for the Nurse of Today

Wednesday, 9 July 2008
Ann Tak-Ying Shiu, PhD , The Nethersole School of Nursing, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

Learning Objective 1: The learner will be able to identify the public health development in Hong Kong.

Learning Objective 2: The learner will be able to identify the contribution of nursing to public health development in Hong Kong.


Hong Kong had been a British colony until its return to China in 1997 and adopted its public health and nursing systems from the British model. The public health development in Hong Kong has never been systematically analysed in published literature. This study aims to examine nursing contribution in this development whereby lessons for the nurse of to-day can be identified.


Ashton's (1990) mapping framework established in Britain was adopted to guide the examination of the course of public health development in Hong Kong and the nursing contribution. The examination involved a literature search of the publications and archive.


Results show that the development of public health in Hong Kong has evolved through four eras, from Sanitation Era in 1900s to New Public Health Era in 2000s. Nurses came into the historical scene of public health development from the second era onwards, but nursing contribution to the evolution of public health development has been minimal. Although the contribution to the evolution has been insignificant, nursing involvement in public health care provision is huge. One major role has been health educators focusing on personal prevention. This focus continues to prevail today.


Nurses in Hong Kong, resembling their counterparts in Britain, have contributed minimally to the evolution of public health development, although nurses are the major workforce in public health system. It has been critiqued that nurses traditionally hide away from political action. The epidemiological transition internationally and in Hong Kong from acute to chronic diseases is a major challenge to health care systems. Given that there exists ‘inextricable interweaving of politics and public health', nurses may again lag behind in facing the challenge of health care systems in transition if we continue to focus on the individual element and ignore the structural aspect of health promotion strategies.