Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, was born in 1820 to a wealthy British family. Determined to help the sick, Nightingale cared for the poor and infirm in the village surrounding her family’s estate. She later enrolled in a nursing school in Germany, much to the consternation of her parents.
The Science Museum, London noted that while her mother and father greatly encouraged her education, especially her affinity for statistics, they disapproved of nursing, an unsuitable career for a young woman of wealth and stature. This did not dissuade Nightingale, who History.com describes as one of the most famous nurses of all time.
On May 12 — International Nurses Day — we celebrate Florence Nightingale.
The Founder of Modern Nursing
Nightingale started her career at a Middlesex hospital for ailing governesses in the midst of a cholera outbreak. By improving hygienic conditions in the hospital, Nightingale dramatically reduced the mortality rate.
Secretary of War Sidney Herbert, who had heard of Nightingale’s new hygiene practices, asked her to come to Crimea, where the situation was dire. Employing her aptitude for statistics, according to the Smithsonian, she discovered that more soldiers were dying from infectious diseases than from battle wounds — in short, bad hygiene.
At Scutari, the British hospital in Constantinople, Nightingale scrubbed everything from the floors to the ceilings, enlisting the help of the least sick patients. She set up a kitchen, a library and a laundry room so her patients could have clean linens, entertainment and warm food. Nightingale was known for walking down the hallways at night, lamp in hand, as she tended to patients.
Ultimately, the International Council of Nurses reported that Nightingale’s efforts reduced death rate at the military hospitals from 40 percent to 2 percent.
How Did Nightingale Gain Fame?
When Nightingale returned home to England, Queen Victoria awarded her an engraved brooch and $250,000, which she used to start a training school for nurses, according to History.com.
At 38 years old, Nightingale worked mostly from her bed due to chronic health issues developed in Crimea. Still, she pushed for health care reform across Europe and reportedly met with most visitors in her bedroom.
By the time she died at age 90, the International Council of Nurses noted that Nightingale had authored more than 200 reports detailing how to manage hospital conditions, proper hygiene and more.
What Was Nightingale’s Legacy?
“The Lady With the Lamp” is considered the founder of modern nursing because of her innovative approach to the field. By focusing on personalized patient care — like good hygiene — recovery was more likely. The holistic approach she advocated, considered revolutionary at the time, is still implemented today.
A lifelong devotee of mathematics, she also became the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society because of her prolific statistical contributions to the war effort.
The International Council of Nurses considers Nightingale extremely influential in passing public policy and health care reforms. Modern nurses still look to Nightingale as a role model.
A Day to Celebrate
International Nurses Day is celebrated on May 12 every year, Florence Nightingale’s own birthday. This year, take a moment to celebrate the nurses around us. Most nurses work long shifts and take on dirty and emotionally exhausting tasks without batting an eye. Many are everyday heroes, just like Nightingale.