top of page

The Most Influential Nurse in History: Florence Nightingale

In modern-day hospitals, certain conditions must be met, or these hospitals would be closed. These include things like basic hygiene, sanitation, and even the ability to see loved ones. However, hospitals were not always like this. The nurse that can be thanked for pioneering modern nursing and making hospitals cleaner and safer is Florence Nightingale. She is known as the greatest nurse in history.

Florence Nightingale was born May 12, 1820, in Florence, Italy to well-off British socialites William and Frances Nightingale. Nightingale was an extremely intelligent child so her father made sure she received a proper education. She studied philosophy, history, and literature, but excelled in mathematics and languages learning to read and write in French, German, Italian, Greek, and Latin. From a young age, Nightingale took interest in philanthropy as she would help the sick and poor that lived in or around her father’s estate. At the age of 16, Nightingale claimed to have a ‘call from God’ to help the sick and ill. So she decided she would become a nurse. Nightingale faced some hardship when becoming a nurse, as it was deemed socially unacceptable for a woman of her status. Her parents even forbade her from pursuing the career. However, this did not stop Nightingale from following her passion, and she enrolled as a nursing student at the Lutheran Hospital of Pastor Fliedner in Kaiserwerth, Germany.

In 1853, Florence Nightingale became the superintendent of the Institution for Sick Gentlewomen (governesses) in Distressed Circumstances, in London. It was here that she first exhibited her efficiency in improving nursing care, working conditions, and the efficiency of a hospital. Nightingale believed that her skills were better suited for training nurses and after one year was contemplating leaving her job. She in fact did end up leaving as in 1854 Nightingale was given the opportunity to nurse soldiers in the Crimean War. News had reached Britain that the conditions in military hospitals were terrible, and the British public demanded improvement.

On November 5, Nightingale with a group of 38 women arrived at the Barrack Hospital in Turkey. They were not welcome by the military medical officers due to the poor reputations of previous female nurses. On her arrival at the hospital, Nightingale was met with horrid conditions. The hospital sat on a sewage pool that contaminated its drinking water. Patients sat amongst their own waste, while randomly placed in the hallways of the hospital. Insects and rodents plagued the hospital and basic supplies like bandages and soap ran scarce. Due to this more soldiers were dying due to infections and diseases obtained in the hospital than through injuries from battles.

Florence Nightingale immediately began changes. She gained help from soldiers' wives to clean clothes and made sure the nurses cleaned the wards and provided them with basic care. Nightingale then set up certain health standards giving wounded soldiers basic necessities such as bathing, clean clothing and dressings, and adequate food. She even made sure to take care of her patient's mental health, aiding in writing letters to their families and having educational and recreational activities for the men. Nightingale would even walk through the ward at night tending to patients that needed her. This gave her the nickname ‘Lady with the Lamp’. Nightingale’s work at the hospital reduced its mortality rates by two-thirds. She remained in Crimea until the end of the war, and it was during this time that she caught the Crimean fever, which plagued her life for the next 25 years.

On her return home, Nightingale was met with a hero’s welcome. Despite her new popularity and her illness, Nightingale continued to work as a nurse. She wrote a detailed paper titled Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Arm. It described her times in the Crimean Hospital and her proposals for changes to military hospitals. After Nightingale met with Queen Victoria to discuss the healthcare reforms that should take place in the British military, the War Office’s administrative department was reconstructed. This included the establishment of the Royal Commission for the Health of the Army. In 1859, she opened the Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London for women who sought to become nurses.

It is because of Florence Nightingale’s work that the modern nursing system and medical practices in hospitals were developed. Due to this, she has been bestowed with numerous awards and titles. In fact, International Nursing Day is held every year on her birthday May 12th, in honour of Nightingale. After a long and momentous life and career Nightingale died in 1910 at the age of 90.

Works Cited:

Selanders, Louise. "Florence Nightingale". Encyclopedia Britannica, 9 Aug 2021, Accessed 21 March 2022 Editors. “Florence Nightingale”. HISTORY. 8 March 2022. Accessed 21 March 2022

13 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page