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  • Nurses Week – Thinking of Florence Nightingale

    Friday, April 22, 2016

    The following post was written by Gloria Donnelly, PhD, dean of Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions.

    It’s almost National Nurses Week — a time for celebrating the contributions of the nursing profession to the health and well-being of the global community. Nurses Week, May 6-12, 2016, also honors the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing who changed the course of health care through her blend of caring and science. I know what you’re thinking — “Here we go again!" — another boring tribute to that nice lady with the lamp who glided through the military wards in the Crimea to help the wounded soldiers feel better, blah, blah, blah! Instead, I challenge you to think about the scientific and caring legacy of Florence Nightingale that permeates your nursing practice every day. 

    Each time you wash your hands before caring for a patient, stop for a few seconds and think of Florence Nightingale. She believed in the healing power of good hygiene: bathing patients, changing the dressings of the wounded (which was not standard practice), changing bed linens and washing hands. What was so remarkable about these simple caring strategies? Nightingale initiated her hygienic practices before the existence of germs was confirmed and she made her case with the statistical evidence she collected on how these practices dramatically lowered mortality rates in war hospitals. Christianson 1 selected Nightingale’s statistical chart demonstrating efficacy of her care practices as one of one hundred diagrams that “changed the world.”  Given the rates of nosocomial infections in hospitals today, all nurses need to channel Nightingale.

    Each time you advocate for a patient through questioning an order, calling a time out or advancing your observations and theory of what a patient is experiencing, stop for a few seconds and think of Florence Nightingale. She believed in the legitimacy of the role of the nurse to advocate for the patient, to challenge other providers to give the best care possible, to record information and data about patients and to track their progress. This was not necessarily welcomed in the war hospitals of the Crimea, where some physicians saw nurses as interfering busy bodies or as glorified domestics. Nightingale remained true to the ideal that nursing was a profession: a legitimate role for those who desired to improve health and care whether in the community or in the hospital. 2

    Each time you complete an assignment on your way to that next nursing degree, stop for a few seconds and think of Florence Nightingale. Until the opening of Nightingale’s school, the St. Thomas Hospital School of Nursing, women interested in a life of nursing work had to join a religions order. Nightingale spent time in Germany studying the Lutheran nursing education system before the Crimean War. Convinced that nursing could be a legitimate profession for women, Nightingale pursued her dream of a nursing education system for highly selected women.  Her educational practices and ideals spread to the United States and all over the world.  Nightingale was not only the consummate nurse but also a great educator, administrator and reformer. She would have loved the power of technology to change the world and the power of the Internet to disseminate her principles and practices. 

    This Nurses Week — let’s celebrate our glorious profession by thinking of Florence Nightingale and committing to lifelong learning. I hope to see you online where we can work and learn together.


    1. Christianson, S (2012). 100 Diagrams that Changed the World. New York: The Penguin Group.
    2. Bostridge, M. (2008) Florence Nightingale: The Making of an Icon. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.             


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