Pioneer of Modern Nursing
May 12 is International Nurses Day in honor of Florence Nightingale, born May 12, 1820 in Florence, Italy——the reason for her first name. She was the daughter of wealthy British parents, who spent an extended honeymoon in Italy and returned to England in 1821. Florence was well educated, but unlike her mother, she wasn’t interested in the social scene. Instead she preferred philanthropy and assisting the sick and poor. With a deep sense of religion, she believed she was called to reduce human suffering.
When she told her parents she wanted to be a nurse, they prohibited her from pursuing that career, which was considered menial to a family of their stature. She disregarded their mandate, refused a wedding proposal and in 1850 enrolled at Institution of Protestant Deaconesses in Kaiserswerth, Germany. There she had two weeks of training in 1850 and three months in 1851.
She took a job at a hospital in London in 1853 and became its superintendent. When it was reported that the wounded and sick British soldiers in the Crimean War were not receiving adequate attention, Florence assembled a group of nurses and arrived in Constantinople in 1854 to attend to them. She was outraged at the unsanitary conditions and despicable treatments.
She established standards of care, emphasizing cleanliness, and the death rate was reduced by two thirds. She prepared meals to cater to soldiers dietary needs and established a laundry, library and classroom. Her dedication to the soldiers in the wards earned her the title of “Lady with the Lamp” because she came through during the night to assist them.
In 1860 she established the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. She was so admired that women from wealthy families enrolled in the school, which changed the view of nursing and elevated it to an admirable career. Her “Notes on Nursing: What it is and What it is Not” has been in continuous publication since 1859.
She refused the offer to be buried in Westminster Abbey and chose the family plot in Hampshire. She died in 1910, never having completely recovered from Crimean Fever, which she contracted in 1855.
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