Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820 in Florence, Italy. She came from a wealthy family. As a child she had a vivid imagination, was considered a dreamer and often dreamed of helping others. Nightingale was well educated, a benefit of her family s wealth and her fathers belief in education, even for women. She studied all of the basic subjects, such as history, math, philosophy, science, music and art. She also learned five different languages. At a very young age she discovered her passion for mathematics. This was not considered an important subject for women so Nightingale had to beg her parents to let her study mathematics.
Her desire to help others was put into practice at a young age. She started out by caring for sick animals and was soon caring for the servants in the household. Her family traveled all over the world and Nightingale took this opportunity to further educate herself. When she traveled she would secretly go out and visit hospitals. She kept extensive notes on all the hospitals. She took notes on management, hygiene, wards and doctors. She kept pursuing her desire to become a nurse even though her parents opposed the idea. Nursing in the nineteenth century was not considered a reputable career. Nurses did not have any training and hospitals were unsanitary places where the poor went to die. Her parents finally gave in and Nightingale was allowed to go to Kaiserswerth, a nursing school in Germany.
(Aguirre, 1). Motherhood was the ultimate goal for every woman. Women were supposed to be concerned with feminine characteristics, roles and functions of family life. The ideal women in Victorian society were obedient, submissive and dependent on their husbands. Women who were not married were viewed as societal outcasts and not feminine.
Nightingale did not fit society s image of womanhood. She was ambitious and sought a career rather than marriage in an era where it was desirable for women to be subservient to her husband and avoid occupational ambitions (Olson, 1). Nightingale had many marriage opportunities. She was wealthy and beautiful but her beliefs prevented any form of long term marriage relationship. She stated, I could not satisfy my nature by spending a life with him in making society and arranging domestic things .not being able to seize the chance of forming for myself a true and rich life would seem to me like suicide ( Huxley, 41). Her studies in philosophy included Plato, Rousseau, D. Stewart, and Descartes. These philosophers helped to form her beliefs of society and her duty to the truth. These beliefs are reflected in her hospital reforms and nursing notes. Her love of math was well applied and would serve her well when lobbying for reforms in health care.
Nightingale was an innovative and persuasive leader who single-handedly invented modern nursing, which broadened women s roles in society. She is most remembered for her work during the Crimean War. Sir Sidney Herbert, one of her friends from the War Office, asked her to assist in a hospital in the Crimean. The Crimean War occurred during 1853-1856. When Nightingale arrived at the Barrack hospital in Scutari she found the most disgusting sight that she had ever seen. The hospital walls and floors looked like they had never been cleaned. There was no supplies, running water, latrines, basins, soap and they lacked most ordinary drugs. There were no utensils and the men ate one meal a day, if food was available, with their hands. Wounded men were placed on the dirty floor, resulting in even higher deaths.
Nightingale and her thirty-eight hand picked nurses spent twenty-one months establishing hygienic standards for the care of the sick and wounded. Nightingale spent much effort reorganizing the hospital. She established a pure water supply, providing medical materials and food. She reorganized the kitchen and the laundries in the hospital, bought utensils and organized a meal plan. Nightingale was devoted to the welfare of the soldiers and attended to all their needs, physical, social as well as emotional. She worked long hours, sometimes twenty-four hours straight without rest. Late at night she often made her rounds, carrying a Turkish lamp. The soldiers came to call her the lady with the lamp . To this day the lamp is the symbol for nursing. As a result of these efforts, the mortality rate dropped to 2%, down from 60% previous to their arrival (Olson, 2). This is a significant reduction in the death rate and many soldiers and their families where forever grateful to her.
During the Crimean War, Nightingale worked all day and wrote all night applying her knowledge of mathematics. She was determined that the criminal treatment of the British soldier in the Crimean should never happen again. She used a new technique of statistical analysis to plot the incidents of preventable deaths in the military. She is known for developing the polar-area diagrams (Audain, 1). These diagrams showed the deaths caused by unsanitary conditions and were used to petition for reform. With her analysis, Florence Nightingale revolutionized the idea that social phenomena could be objectively measured and subjected to mathematical analysis (Audain, 1). When Nightingale was at Scutari, she collected data and kept records of everything. She was able to use this information to improve the city and military hospitals. She demonstrated that statistics provided an organized way of learning and lead to improvements in medical and surgical practices. She developed a Model Hospital Statistical Form that helped hospitals to collect and generate consistent data and statistics. Her work with medical statistics was so impressive that she was elected to the membership in the statistical society of England. Karl Pearson acknowledged Nightingale as a prophetess in the development of applied statistic (Audain, 1). These statistics, along with her letters and notes convinced the military authorities, Parliament and Queen Victoria to carry out her proposed hospital reforms. Many of her statistical forms and diagrams are still in use today within the military and hospitals.
Nightingale is recognized the world over as the person who set out the principles for nursing education and practice. Her name stands for the nursing profession, as she is responsible for establishing nursing as a respected profession. Nightingale believed that nursing was a science, therefore required structured training and education. She opened the Nightingale School, a formal nursing program out of St. Thomas Hospital in London in 1860. The school was funded from donations to the Nightingale fund. The veterans of the Crimean war and others who believed in her cause gave donations. The school was a success and her nurses were very much in demand. Similar schools were opened in other countries, such as The Victoria School of Nurses in Berlin, as her influence spread throughout the world.
Nightingale s beliefs and theoretical models profoundly influenced her school. She believed that all people, regardless of belief, individual station or circumstance were entitled to medical and nursing care. She stated, we are to take all denominations whatsoever, and allow them to be visited by their respective priests and Muftis (Huxley, 50). She valued each individual and taught her nurses not to judge their patients. She taught nurses to treat patients as multidimensional individuals rather than diseases. The concepts of public health nursing grew out of her teaching and theories. Environment was very important on the impact of health and wellness. She stated that the purpose of nursing was to put the patient in the best possible condition for nature to act upon him (Olson, 4). This theory is still very important to nursing today and guides many schools in their curriculum. Nightingale believed that nursing should be separate from the medical models and from hospitals, having it s own theory base. She was way ahead of her time in many of her concepts, as they were not adopted in North America until the twentieth century. In Ontario, her model for nursing education did not take effect until 1974, when nursing education separated from the hospitals and became part of the College curriculum.
Nightingale made notes continuously throughout her life. Her interest in statistics and her careful attention to detail came together to complete many writing. Her book Notes on nursing: What it is and is Not, was published in 1859, was a success and widely read. She also produced over 150 monographs and books and wrote over 12,000 letters (Olsen, 2). One of her largest documents was privately printed, titled Notes on Matters affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army. It was almost 1,000 pages and full of statistics (Olsen, 2). This document was used by Nightingale to lobby for reform in the army. To this day the medical administration of the army still uses the material in this document. Nightingale shared many of her views and beliefs in her writings. She believed that there was no women s or men s work but that everyone should contribute to society according to their talents. She wrote,
women to do all that men do, merely because men do it, .or that which urges women to do nothing that men do, because they are women, and should be recalled to a sense of their duty as women .Surely woman should bring the best she has, whatever that is, to the work of God s world, without attending to either of these cries ( Huxley, 190).
Another of Nightingale s projects was to improve sanitation in India. This was a four year project that required much time and effort. Not many people were aware of the appalling conditions the British soldiers were experiencing at that time. Many soldiers died due to disease brought about by poor sanitation and living conditions. Nightingale, showed that the main causes were the same as in the Crimea the brew of avoidable sickness and death concocted by ignorance, indifference and incompetence where one soldier s child in five survived into its sixth year (Huxley, 200).
Nightingale s work was the basis for present day organizations. Her work in nursing and the promotion of wellness formed the basis for public health nursing today. Jean Henri Dunant, founder of the Red Cross and of the Geneva Convention wrote of Nightingale in 1872, It is to an Englishwoman that all the honour of that Convention is due. What inspired me ..was the work of Miss Florence Nightingale in the Crimea (Huxley, 224).
Nightingale was the first woman to receive the prestigious Order of Merit. She was a tireless worker that established modern nursing and laid the foundation for public health and the Red Cross. She worked against the gender oppression of women in the nineteenth century and provided them with a role model. She lobbied and achieved reform in the military and in hospitals worldwide. She was an influential leader that changed nursing and traditional feminine roles. Nightingale was a major influential force on nineteenth century society. Her insights and innovations improved the standards of living for many. She laid the foundation and framework for modern day nursing care. She was a true leader in many ways and very deserving of the revered status she enjoys today, many years after her death. Nightingale serves as a role model for the modern day woman and the nursing profession.
By Laura Willwerth
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