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Florence Nightingale and Contribution to Modern Nursing

Florence Nightingale and Contribution to Modern Nursing


Florence Nightingale is considered the founder of nursing by establishing the concept of ‘good nursing practice’, a curriculum and training school for nurses. However, her contribution to the modern practice covers a wider area than just nursing practice (Lopes & Santos, 2010). Nightingale had a strong desire to devote her life in service of others and the nation. She overcame her family’s opposition to work as a nurse, a less prestigious occupation at the time. The events and scenes of the Crimean War provide evidence of the rates human suffering and deaths that motivated Nightingale to realize the role of proper care for the injured (Kelly, 2012). To her, most deaths resulted from improper care rather than gunshots. Nightingale founded the world’s first school of nursing at St Thomas Hospital in 1860, which became the foundation of Nursing curriculum, practice, training and research. Her numerous works, some of which were published after her death in 1900, provides an indication of the material research she conducted in her nursing career. To the modern nursing context, Nightingale’s work has contributed to nursing research, care, leadership and public health reforms (McDonald, 2012). This indicates the need to study Nightingale’s work as a foundation of modern nursing from the perspectives of leadership, research and social development.

Purpose statement

According to various authors, Nightingale’s work provides some evidence that her contribution to health reforms in the public sector is a major aspect of her legacy, which influences the modern guidelines and programs in public health reforms. The purpose of this paper is to analyze Nightingale’s contribution to modern nursing with an aim of predicting the possible future of nursing. It is possible that the future of nursing will remain strongly inclined to Florence Nightingale’s ideas of nursing, despite the technological, social and economic developments in the modern health and nursing field.

Historical background

Florence Nightingale’s contribution to modern nursing started long before her involvement in the Crimean War. Evidently, historical facts indicate that she wanted to serve the community throughout her life, a fact that is portrayed by her dedication to work rather than the family. Nightingale was born in Bellosguardo, Italy, on 12 May 1820 to a wealthy British family. The family returned to England in 1821 and settled in Embley, where Nightingale received her early education (Stanley & Sherratt, 2010). The young woman had a passion for nursing as a way of serving her community, although the family rejected this idea. However, most authors agree that the actual contribution to nursing began during and after the Crimean War. At the time, legal codes prohibited women from serving in the military, but some were called to care for the injured troops. Nightingale and her 38 students and 15 nuns volunteered to serve the British army in the war. In November 1854, the group arrived in Scutari, where the British army had set up a camp. Immediately, the group realized that more soldiers were dying of injuries while at the camp than in the warfront (Lee, Clark & Thompson, 2013). Nightingale realized that the primary cause of death was poor sanitation, poor care and inability of the medical staff to deliver adequate care in the line of duty. Mass infections among the military caused more deaths than the effects of the gun wounds. Nightingale’s first action was to request for a solution from the government in London, which resulted to the creation of Renkoi Hospital as a center of care for the soldiers. On her request, the British government commissioned massive improvement of sanitation at the military camp, which included reduction in overcrowding, flushing out of sewers and adequate supply of drugs. A number of records indicate that the death rate in the camps reduced by 40%.

The long-term effect of Nightingale’s work on nursing

Nightingale thought that the major cause of death was poor nutrition, poor supplies and the inability of soldiers to take care of their wounded colleagues. She believed that human suffering results from poor healthcare and nutrition rather than diseases and injuries. To reduce these deaths, Nightingale saw the need to train more nurses and caregivers. Her work influenced the foundation of the Nightingale Fund for training nurses. With this funding, Nightingale was able to set up the Nightingale Training school, a department of St Thomas Hospital. The first graduates of the school started serving the community in 1865, five years after the foundation of the school.
In her research work “Notes on Nursing” that was published in 1859, Nightingale argues that knowledge in sanitation and methods of putting diseases way takes place every day. Accordingly, knowledge is distinct from medical knowledge that can only be offered by a professional physician. In addition, she argues that the bulk of the work in a clinical set up requires nursing professionals rather than clinicians because it concerns care, provision of hygiene, nutrition and support.
Nightingale’s ability to reduce the rates of death in the war and later in London influenced many other institutions and countries. For instance, Nightingale’s school trained Linda Richards before she went to train other nurses in the American Civil War. Richards, known as “the first American trained nurse”, was influential in saving the lives of thousands of troops serving under the Union Government. She applied Nightingale’s ideas and knowledge of nursing in the war and later in Japan. By 1880s, most of Nightingale’s trainees were providing excellent services in various hospitals in Britain, Ireland, Australia and the US.

Contribution to the modern nursing and public health

From an in-depth analysis of Nightingale’s work, it is clear that the impact of her ideas goes beyond the practice of taking care for the injured and the sick. For instance, she believed that the high rate of death among the soldiers in the Crimean War was due to a number of factors. First, she thought that the soldiers lacked pure air in the camps, which caused high rates of infection. In the modern context, airborne diseases such as TB remain an international health problem. Respiratory diseases are caused by air contamination. Nightingale had this idea in mind when working at the military camp. Secondly, Nightingale thought that lack of pure water killed hundreds of soldiers who would have survived their injuries. This is true because lack of pure water is the cause of thousands of deaths in the modern world, especially due to waterborne infections such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery. In fact, one of the millennium development goals is to ensure that every community in the world has access to pure water to prevent such diseases.

Thirdly, Nightingale thought that lack of drainage was a major cause of poor health and deaths in the military camps. She believed that if wastewater and other wastes were removed from the camps, injured soldiers would survive. In the modern context, sewage systems make one of the major focus points for public health programs. It is known that poor sewage and drainage systems cause water and airborne diseases that pose a global threat to human survival.

In addition, Nightingale thought that poor hygiene in the camps and hospitals causes a number of deaths. She believed that taking care of the clinical setting could reduce deaths by a large margin. For instance, she encouraged her students to scrub the walls and floors of hospital rooms to avoid infections. This practice is one of the most common ways of reducing infection in all institutions and workplaces apart from hospitals.

In addition, Nightingale’s work shows evidence of her contribution to modern leadership in nursing. By definition, nursing leadership involves a focus on bringing positive change, applying creativity and knowledge to create a successful workforce that will improve healthcare outcomes. This definition heavily borrows from Nightingale’s work. It is evident that Nightingale applied some knowledge obtained from observation to improve the situation at the military camps (Selanders, 1998). From her experience, she realized that there was an emergent need for an overall change in the care provision system (Kelly, 2012). She encouraged her nurses to provide proper nutrition and hygiene to avoid infections. The results were that the rate of death reduced by a wide margin. In the modern context, nursing leadership aims at improving the outcomes of service.

From this analysis, it is evident that the modern concept and practice of nursing aims at improving human health on a global scale. The future of nursing is heavily dependent on the success of the modern practice and research. Nightingale’s work set forth the need to apply knowledge and research to improve outcomes. Therefore, the future of nursing will still rely on the basic principles set by Nightingale.
Kelly, J. (2012). Editorial: What has Florence Nightingale ever done for clinical nurses? Journal of Clinical Nursing, 21(17‐18), 2397-2398.
Lee, G., Clark, A. M., & Thompson, D. R. (2013). Florence Nightingale–never more relevant than today. Journal of advanced nursing, 69(2), 245-246.
Lopes, L. M. M., & Santos, S. M. P. D. (2010). Florence Nightingale: Apontamentos sobre a fundadora da Enfermagem Moderna. Revista de Enfermagem Referência, (2), 181-189.
McDonald, L. (2012).What would Florence Nightingale say? Guelph, Canada: University of Guelph
Selanders, L. C. (1998). Florence Nightingale the Evolution and Social Impact of Feminist Values in Nursing. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 16(2), 227-243.
Stanley, D., & Sherratt, A. (2010). Lamp light on leadership: clinical leadership and Florence Nightingale. Journal of Nursing Management, 18(2), 115-121.

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