Florence Nightingale By Wendy Willingham, RN Created as part of an assignment as a student in the MSN program at the University of North Alabama
Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy in 1820 to a wealthy landowner.
As a child, Florence was very close to her father. Because he had no sons, he became very close to her and took responsibility for her education. She was taught by her father and learned Greek, Latin, Italian, German, mathematics, and philosophy.
At the age of 17, Florence felt a calling to become a nurse. Her parents were very opposed to this idea because nursing at that time was associated with working class women. At the age of 31, after much insistence, Florence’s father gave her permission to train as a nurse and she left for Kaiserwerth, Germany to begin her training.
In 1853 she became superintendent of the Institution for Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Circumstances in London. This opportunity allowed her to become independent from her family and also to try out new ideas in organizing and managing an institution.
In 1851, the Crimean War began when Russia invaded Turkey. Britain and France came to Turkey’s aid. Soon after British soldiers arrived in Turkey, they began to contract cholera and malaria. Within two weeks, over 8,000 soldiers suffered from these two diseases. Nightingale volunteered her nursing services and organized a group of 38 nurses to go to Turkey.
Nightingale found the conditions at the barrack hospitals appalling. Soldiers were found in rooms with no blankets and no decent food. Some were still dressed in their uniforms that were bloody and dirty.
Military officers denied Nightingale’s attempts to reorganize the barrack hospitals until she used a contact at The Times newspaper to report how unfairly the British military was treating its soldiers. She was eventually granted permission to reorganize the hospital.
Nightingale and the other nurses applied the science of the 19th century to improve the conditions at the hospital. She believed cleanliness and fresh air were the first lines of defense against infection. Because of their efforts, death rates among the soldiers dropped dramatically.
Nightingale became known as the “lady with the lamp” as she worked tirelessly to help the wounded soldiers. One wounded soldier said of her “She would speak to one and nod and smile to as many more, but she could not do it to all you know. We lay there in our hundreds, but we could kiss her shadow as it fell.”
Nightingale returned from the war a heroine. However, much of her work to advance the nursing profession occurred within the last 40 years of her life. She wrote the first nursing “textbook” entitled Notes on Nursing in 1859 and developed the first nursing school curriculum for St. Thomas’s Hospital in London.
Nightingale’s ambitious attitude helped her to fight hard to obtain a leadership position in a world dominated by men. Her efforts during the war helped prove the importance of well-trained nurses on patient outcomes and her work after the war helped mold and shape the future of the nursing profession.
How does nursing today differ from nursing in Nightingale’s time?
Nursing is a respectable career and one can feel proud to be a nurse. It is no longer a profession that is considered “undesirable” or “for women of questionable morals” as it was in Nightingale’s era.
Nurses must be well-trained on many different areas of science, math, and medicine.
References Notable Biographies. (2009). Florence Nightingale. Retrieved June 25, 2009, from http://www.notablebiographies.com/Mo-Ni/Nightingale-Florence.html Spartacus Educational. (2009). Florence Nightingale. Retrieved June 25, 2009, from http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REnightingale.htm Stanley, D. (2007). Lights in the shadows: Florence Nightingale and others who made their mark. Contemporary Nurse: A Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession, 24(1), 45-51.