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In light of Florence Nightingale’s recent 200th birthday, it’s hard not to wonder—how would our founder of modern nursing be responding to the Coronavirus pandemic? Known as the “Lady With The Lamp,” Nightingale was noted for wandering the wards of the hospital at night carrying a lamp, providing support to soldiers during the Crimean War. Advocating for basic standards of care, Nightingale believed in the importance of good hygiene and adequate nutrition but also helped improve the emotional health of soldiers by writing letters home for them. It’s easy to imagine her at the bedsides of dying COVID-19 patients, charged with the painful work of helping family members say goodbye to their loved ones over FaceTime. A natural problem-solver, we can venture to guess that Nightingale would be a leader in transforming today’s trends in how to manage the well-being of American citizens and guiding our decisions on economic closures. Nightingale faced many odds during her lifetime, but ultimately became known as a social reformer, statistician, and founder of what we know of as modern nursing today.
“God spoke to me and called me to His service. What form this service was to take, the voice did not say.”
Nightingale’s parents initially disproved of her decision to become a nurse, expecting her to marry and raise a family at a young age. In fact, she had many marriage proposals but refused them all. Nightingale had other plans and, as a teenager, believed she received a calling from God to help the poor and the sick. Nursing was not a respected profession during her time and when Nightingale arrived at the British camp during the Crimean War, doctors did not initially welcome her. However, under her leadership, Nightingale’s group of nurses transformed the conditions of the hospital and brought the death rate down from 40 to 2 percent. Like many nurses today who are rapidly becoming infected with COVID-19 from working conditions, Nightingale fell ill shortly after arriving to Crimea with brucellosis, otherwise known as “Crimean fever.” With no active treatment for the disease, Nightingale suffered its persisting effects for almost 25 years, which frequently confined her to bed due to chronic pain.
After returning home from the war, Nightingale knew there needed to be health reform for the British Army. Having kept meticulous notes on the causes of illness and death during her time at Barrack Hospital, a commission was established based on Nightingale’s statistical findings to reform military medical systems. Nightingale had a knack for analyzing data and with the help of Dr. William Farr developed the first pie charts, calling them coxcombes. These charts helped illustrate her statistical findings in an accessible way and in 1860, Nightingale became the first woman elected Fellow to the Statistical Society. As a token of gratitude for her war efforts, a fund was set up that Nightingale used to institute the Nightingale Training School in London, which opened in 1860. The school offered a formal nursing education and made nursing a respectable option for women who desired work outside of the home. Although ill and bedridden for much of her later life, Nightingale wrote almost 200 books, pamphlets, and reports over the course of her career on hospital, sanitation, and statistics and provided advice on health care issues to colleagues across the globe.
“I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions which bring results.”
Florence Nightingale was a pioneer of nursing, leadership, and education and someone who certainly would not sit around and wait for things to blow over without taking action herself. In today’s times, one can easily imagine her as anyone from the charge nurse of an intensive care unit to an ANA president consulting with the White House team. One thing we know for certain is Nightingale would first and foremost be a patient advocate. She would not stand for a shortage of ventilators or medication for patients. If we learn nothing else from Florence Nightingale, we must remember that it is not enough just to care for our patients. We must be their voice when they cannot be heard and use actions to bring results.
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