When studying history, one name that is all-to-often overlooked is that of Florence Nightingale. Many people may have heard her name in passing or recognize it from a text book, but are unfortunately unaware of her relationship to the medical field or how she has impacted the world. Nightingale’s knowledge of medicine and statistics impacted both fields in major ways. In fact, it can be argued that the world would not be as clean or as healthy if not for Nightingale’s contributions. Indeed her legacy is one worth carrying on.
Florence Nightingale was named after Florence, Italy where she was born on May 12, 1820. Despite her Italian origin, she was raised in England and educated by her father. Always interested in health, she took care of her pets and even the family servants when they were ill. At 29, she decided to study the hospital system and began training in Egypt at the Institute of Saint Vincent de Paul and later in Germany at the Institute for Protestant Deaconesses. During the Crimean War her operations focused on the soldiers. She noted incidences of preventable deaths in the British Army, mostly based on the sanitary conditions at the hospitals. In fact, she discovered that more soldiers were dying from dysentery, cholera and typhus caught in the hospital than from the injuries they had sustained on the battlefield. Shocked and appalled by these statistics, she dedicated the next forty years of her life to sanitation reform. She founded the Nightingale School for Nurses, funded by the soldiers whose lives she saved. She lived the last fifteen years of her life as an invalid after succumbing to a disease she had contracted in Crimea. Nightingale believed in women’s rights, but did not respect the women’s rights activism of the time period. She spent most of her time in the company of powerful men who worked with her to accomplish her vision. Despite this, she never married and many scholars believe she remained chaste until her death. Nightingale lived to be ninety years old, dying peacefully in her sleep in 1910.
Not only has Florence Nightingale saved lives personally, but she brought about changes in the medical system that have saved countless lives since. She was responsible for hospitals improving their standards for sterility and care of open wounds. Nightingale is also famous for her “polar-area diagram” that showed how much death is caused by a lack of sanitation. Not only did this diagram help to open the eyes of everyone from small town doctors to the Queen of England, but it also showed how using statistics can help expose easily resolved problems in even the most delicate of career fields.
Nightingale is honored by both the medical field as well as the field of mathematics for her use of statistics in her work. She was presented with the Royal Red Cross in 1883. This award carries with it great honor and prestige. In 1907 she was given the British Order of Merit becoming the first female recipient. The Polar-Area Diagram is just one of the many instances in which Nightingale incorporated her skill with statistics into her work. For this, she was elected to the Royal Statistical Society. Today, the school of nursing that she founded over 150 years ago still functions as the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery. An official museum has been founded at St. Thomas Hospital, devoted entirely to her life. Her name and/or likeness has also been represented on special issue banknotes, films, television biographies and even the occasional piece of medical technology.
The Nightingale Pledge
Many graduates of nursing schools or recipients of nursing degrees are required to take a pledge named after Florence Nightingale. The “Nightingale Pledge” is a modified Hippocratic Oath designed specifically for nurses. It states that a nurse will do their best to make medical decisions for the benefit of their patients and for society. They should never prescribe a drug they feel may be harmful and they should never administer this drug to themselves. Finally, they should always aid physicians at a medical facility to the best of their ability.
The pledge is often used in ceremonies and programs during National Nurses Week (May6-12) during which Nightingale's birthday (May12) and Nurses Day(May6) both take place. The pledge celebrates Nightingale, her contributions, and nurses everywhere. The Nightingale Pledge can be found below aforementioned by Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.
“I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly, to pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully. I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession, and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.”
Florence Nightingale’s Influence on Nursing: A seven page article taken from a publication by the New York Academy of Medicine.
Florence Nightingale in Mathematics: A biography of the nurse that focuses a lot on her work with data and statistics.
What It is and What It is Not: Actual notes on nursing from Florence Nightingale herself.
Statistics: A summary of Nightingale’s contributions to hospitals and the field of nursing.
Rural Hygiene: Florence Nightingale explored many issues of sanitation that we must take into account when using today’s technology.
A Nursing Leader Ahead of her Time: A brief biography and description of how Florence Nightingale changed nursing.
Nightingale: A compilation of some important facts about the nurse’s life.
Nurse, Renewer of Society: A biography of Florence Nightingale that focuses on her faith and closeness to God.
National Archives: Why was Florence Nightingale important?
Listen to the Voice of Florence Nightingale: A short audio clip of Nightingale’s voice that was recorded on wax cylinder in 1890.
Florence Nightingale: Some information about the woman’s life that is not covered in the other resources.
Famous People: A lesson plan for students that covers Florence Nightingale and her contributions to sanitation.
Nightingale Biography: The life of Florence Nightingale in several short paragraphs.
Crimean War Memorial: A complete article of how Florence Nightingale contributed to the Crimean War with pictures of the memorial.
Red Cross: Florence Nightingale has both influenced and been honored by the British Red Cross.