The world’s largest profession, the noblest of them all and the most trusted one at that, is Nursing. The groundwork of nursing practiced across the globe was pioneered by the greatest figure in nursing history – Florence Nightingale.
Florence Nightingale believed that the life of a nurse is an expression of love for patients as the benevolent affection of one human for another. The love that flows through nurses’ inner awareness of their sharing in the infused love of an infinite transcendent reality. It is a proclivity towards others, irrespective of the characteristics of the person who is loved. Love and service that is unprejudiced; unbiased by personal interest or desire for advantage. According to Florence Nightingale, nursing is more than a profession, it is a calling. This call of duty disposed nurses to attend to patients with kindness, compassion, great tenderness and a joyous spirit, to experience moments of true empathy with patients. In essence, it is an impartial, deeply benevolent affection of one human being towards another. It is transmitted through the will rather than through transient emotions. She held the firm conviction that as unitary beings the many meanings of love are interrelated within us. We are motivated primarily by one or other of the different meanings of love at different times.
Florence Nightingale was a towering figure in the nursing profession. No single individual has contributed more to the Nursing field than she has. Her undaunting efforts saved countless lives in the Crimean War and captured the world’s attention in the mid-1800s. She stood in her age as the pioneer of progress and development in the field of nursing. She pioneered methods that led to the modernization of hospital care, which is still in use today and continue to benefit everyone.
A Trailblazing Personality
Florence Nightingale was a trailblazing personality in the field of nursing whose remarkable work greatly affected 19th and 20th century policies concerning proper care of patients. By helping hospitals transform into cleaner places she demonstrated that well-trained nurses and hygiene in hospitals in fact helped sick people get better. Florence Nightingale most certainly made history and is fondly remembered as the founder of modern nursing. The protagonist was born in 1820, into a high-class British family at a villa in the Italian city of Florence.
“I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.”
– Florence Nightingale
Friendship with a Feminist
At the age of 18, Nightingale undertook one of the first important journeys when her father took the family on a trip to Europe. While on the trip, Florence befriended May Clarke, a Parisian salon hostess, with whom she instantly bonded. A very unusual relationship, notwithstanding their 27-year age difference, the two of them continued to be close friends for around 40 years. Florence’s new pal May Clarke was a feminist to the hilt, and she flaunted that in every way possible throughout her life. The idea that women could be equal to men was something that Florence most probably picked up from Clarke, and she lived the truth of that later in her life.
“I owe my success to this one principle in life, that I never gave or took an excuse.”
– Florence Nightingale
At around the same age, Nightingale was encountering some of her first experiences which she considered as calls from God. These experiences instilled a strong desire in her to devote her life to the service of others. It was difficult initially for Florence to heed this call, as in the eyes of her family, such an idea was detestable.
The Irrevocable Decision
In 1844, despite resistance from her mother and sister, Nightingale eventually arrived at the decision to become a nurse, rebelling against the expected role of women of her status to become a wife and mother. While facing opposition from her close family and the rigid social codes that were applied to young, affluent English women of the time, she independently succeeded in obtaining her nursing education through her tenacity and adamant resolve.
Friends for Life
It is vital to mention her trip to Italy in 1847. She met with Sidney Herbert in Rome, an English politician who served as Secretary of War and remained a close friend of hers. During the height of the Crimean War, in which the Russian Empire had lost to an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottomans and Sardinia (1853 – 1856), it was Herbert and his wife who mainly aided Nightingale’s nursing work there. It sounded grotesque, but the war was haemorrhaging money and the government had to do whatever it could to stem the flow.
Nightingale’s nursing work came to prominence throughout the Crimean War. She had functioned as a manager of nurses who she had personally trained. She had 38 female volunteer staff nurses who worked alongside her who were deployed to the main British camp in Crimea. She managed a whole team, tending to the wounded soldiers. Soon things began to take shape and change for the better. Faced with a daunting task, Florence Nightingale implemented some concepts that are at the core of nursing practice to this day:
Nightingale wrote a massive 830-page report analysing and proposing reforms for military hospitals that operate under poor conditions.
“How very little can be accomplished under the spirit of fear.”
– Florence Nightingale
She accomplished this by cleaning the entire hospital from top to bottom and requiring proper hygiene, such as clean linens, for the soldiers. This is an incredible feat since at the time, microbes and the chain of infection was not known.
Florence Nightingale required that patients do things for themselves in order to gain independence and promote healing. The least infirm patients at the hospital were assigned with the task.
While on her rounds, Nightingale talked to her patients, giving them empathy and compassion in their moment of despair.
In order to talk to and assess the condition of her patients, she made rounds at night with her lamp. Today, nursing assessments are the core of nursing, and all nursing actions are based on them. Keeping that in mind, it’s only fitting that her habit of making assessment rounds was the reason soldiers nicknamed her the “the lady with the lamp.” Nightingale brought consolation and comfort by ministering to patients who were in their last hour.
The implementation of these concepts in the battlefield hospital setting significantly reduced the death rate at the hospital by two thirds.
In Crimea, the care for the wounded was poor, medical staff was overworked, and officials were indifferent to these pressing issues. Medicine supplies were in short supply and hygiene was largely neglected, hence mass infections were common and often fatal.
Nightingale petitioned ‘The Times’ so as to seek a government-led solution to the poor facilities. This issue was resolved after the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was commissioned to construct a prefabricated hospital. The Renkioi Hospital was erected, a civilian facility made of wood that was constructed in England and then shipped to the Dardanelles. This effort resulted in diminished rates of deaths among the soldiers who required care.
Slowly but steadily, Nightingale was making a name for herself while also giving nursing a highly favourable reputation. She became an icon of Victorian culture, portrayed through the persona of “The Lady with the Lamp”, doing the night rounds amongst the injured.
As an injured sergeant once recollected, “I would not be where I am today without the compassion, dedication and guidance of these nurses. For every heart-wrenching story there was a nurse that stood right beside. There was a nurse running every time one of our soldiers suffered a cardiac arrest, who despaired with me as she alternated chest compressions to time. The nurse who stood next to me ran to fetch blood products needed to keep someone alive because the porters would not have made it in time. Nurses epitomize the goodwill that health care services care are run on. They laugh and cry with their patients, emptying bed pans with one hand while fluffing pillows and blankets with the other. They would make their patients a cup of tea with one hand while dispensing life-saving medication with the other.”
“If a nurse refuses to do these kinds of things for her patient, ‘because it is not her business’, I should say that nursing was not her calling.”
– Florence Nightingale
In 1860, Florence Nightingale opened the first nursing school. It was the beginning of professional education and training in the field of nursing. Her school, the Nightingale School for Nurses, was a part of St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. It offered the first official training program for nurses that enabled them to work in hospitals, help the poor and teach others. The training underscored the importance of patient home care and tutored students how to care for the sick at home as well as practice midwifery. Most of the students at the school went on to become matrons at major hospitals in England whilst some of them established their own training programs throughout the world.
The long-lasting legacy of Florence Nightingale is illustrated through the Nightingale Pledge taken by new nurses, which is a kind of modified version of the Hippocratic Oath. The Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest international distinction that can be obtained by a nurse is also named in her honour. The International Nurses Day is cherished all around the globe and celebrated on her birthday, May 12th.
In conclusion, Nightingale also wrote and published work that spread medical knowledge easily. Ever mindful of reaching out equally to everyone, her records were mostly written in simple English so that anyone, even the least literate was able to understand it. Nightingale wrote the first textbook on the subject in 1960, entitled ‘Notes of Nursing’ and thus established nursing education. This book clearly outlined the principles of the nursing profession, offered advice on how women could care for their families and how illness could be properly contained. The importance of patient observation was emphasized in order to figure out their symptoms and needs, so as to be able to provide the right care. The significance of sanitary conditions was also emphasized in addition to sufficient warmth, clean air, sun-lit rooms and a nutritious diet.
On August 13, 1910, the nursing world lost this great leader but not before she was able to imprint her legacy on nursing. Florence Nightingale aptly fulfils the quote of R.H. Sin, “She is proof that you can walk through hell and still be an angel”