Updated: Nov 18, 2021
I figured the best place to start when discussing history was about the founder of nursing, Florence Nightingale. One of the main reasons I wanted to dive into the history of her incredible work is because my website was named after her. When Florence Nightingale would go room to room to tend to the soldiers during war, she always carried a lamp that would light her way through the dark hallways. This is how everyone came to call her The Lady of the Lamp. She has been extremely inspiring to me as a writer and as a leader in the nursing profession. For every nursing graduation, each nurse is given a lamp to symbolize her contributions, especially during an era where women in leadership roles when against the social norm.
When she was growing up her parents encouraged her to resume stereotype roles for a woman. A women’s purpose was to get married and raise a family. The only exception was the queen. Florence Nightingale made it clear this was not her calling and pictured herself doing something much bigger. She spoke many languages and was even an excellent writer! She pursued her education in what nursing was during that time. Prior to Nightingale, nursing was mostly women and religious folks that tended to the sick. There was little training and infection control practices were not being used in the hospitals. Prior to Nightingale, most of what we know of treatment and illness today were not discovered.
When Florence Nightingale finished her education, she took on a leadership role in London caring for the sick until the Crimean war. Unfortunately, during this time healthcare practices were at an all-time low. There were very few people willing to care for the sick and injured. This left a lot of devastation that seemed to last too long. Hygiene practices in the hospitals were terrible and people were dying from very preventable causes. Nightingale realized the devastation and began training nurses to provide actual patient care. The training included hygiene practices, washing sheets, and cleaning patients using clean water with soap. The nurses working in the hospital were required to have specific training and be given a certain amount of time practicing skills. This is how nursing started to be seen as a profession that required an adequate skill set.
Nightingale founded a nursing school and taught something extremely valuable. When the patient and injuries are kept clean, the outcome is much better. She initiated cleanliness practices when caring for patients. Once nursing skills we know so well today were used as daily patient care, mortality rates dropped significantly. Nightingale wrote books on nursing practice and her discoveries she learned throughout her experience. Evidence-based practice lead her work and her relentless commitment to improve healthcare. She evaluated results of her interventions through use of statistics. Florence Nightingale had built up a particularly good reputation in London and her work was admired by many. Nightingale and her team of trained nurses were asked to go assist in terrible conditions at a hospital in Scutari.
Once she arrived, she realized basic supplies were not found and the hospital was covered in filth. There wasn’t a place available to wash sheets or clothes and the hospital capacity was 2 to 3 times higher than initially intended. With hard work and dedication, Nightingale implemented her practices decreasing the mortality rate from 60% to 1%. Every night when everyone was asleep in their beds, she would check on all the soldiers with a lamp lighting her way.
The nursing profession continued to evolve into a profession that required a license and certification. Men were not allowed to be nurses during this time. Policies were set in place in healthcare organizations using Nightingale’s practice methods. Mortality rates that were previously at an all-time high were dropping dramatically. Not only did she shape the nursing profession but healthcare in general. Prior to her work even doctors were not using good infection control methods and were using the same bloody instruments without cleaning them for all their patients! She is the reason nursing is such a respected profession. She always put the patient’s needs first and set the standard for nursing practice.
Judd D and Sitzman K. A History of American Nursing: Trends and Eras. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2014.