Florence Nightingale

by Catherine from San Diego

"Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better" (Florence Nightingale).
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"It seems a commonly received idea among men and even among women themselves that it requires nothing but a disappointment in love, the want of an object, a general disgust, or  incapacity for other things, to turn a woman into a good nurse..." (Florence Nightingale). Florence Nightingale, in her book Notes On Nursing, explicates the common definition of a nurse in her time, something that she devoted her life to reshape. She was an extraordinary woman who persevered to ameliorate the profession of nursing and healthcare. On May 12, 1820, Florence Nightingale was born to an affluent family with elite social status. Growing up, she was expected to marry well but chose to grow herself intellectually and pursued the lowly profession of nursing. At that time, nurses were untrained and uneducated, and often drunk. During the Crimean War, she was appointed superintendent, and "as superintendent of the institution for the next fourteen months, Nightingale ...completely reorganized the hospital, from food and beds to medical supplies and sanitary conditions" (Charlie Deborah). Her methods helped save two-thirds of the hospitalized soldiers. Having the influence of even Queen Victoria, she was able to established St. Thomas' Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses along with writing several books on nursing. She became the first woman to earn Britain's highest honor, the Order of Merit. Growing up and having the ability to live a comfortable and fashionable life, she instead chose to pursue a larger problem- the lack of sanitation in hospitals, and became a nurse to care for those that could not afford a private doctor. Working against her parents' wishes, she persevered to improve healthcare and contribute to a greater good all through her life. Florence Nightingale selflessly sacrificed her luxurious lifestyle, compassionately worked to care for others while improving the nursing field, and was driven to reforming healthcare.

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Giving up what could have been a fashionable and easy life of luxury, Nightingale turned to the lowly profession of nursing to help others. This was something that no women in her position would even think to do. Florence Nightingale turned down an opportunity for an opulent lifestyle to pursue nursing: "When Nightingale was 17 years old, she refused a marriage proposal from a 'suitable' gentleman, Richard Monckton Milnes. Nightingale explained her reason for turning him down, saying that while he stimulated her intellectually and romantically, her ' nature...requires satisfaction, and that would not find it in this life.' Determined to pursue her true calling despite her parents' objections, in 1844, Nightingale enrolled as a nursing student..." (Florence Nightingale Biography). Nightingale decided to pursue a fulfilling life, despite her parents' wishes to marry well, and studied nursing to care for others and put other people's needs before her comforts. Nightingale rejected a proposal from a suitable gentleman, one that could provide her with a lavish lifestyle, and she instead chose to enroll in a nursing school. Most women of her time did not work unless they needed the financial income, which Nightingale did not: "In the early 1850s, Nightingale returned to London, where she took a nursing job in a Middlesex hospital for ailing governesses...The position proved challenging as Nightingale grappled with a cholera outbreak and unsanitary conditions conducive to the rapid spread of the disease. Nightingale made it her mission to improve hygiene practices, significantly lowering the death rate at the hospital in the process. The hard work took a toll on her health. She had just barely recovered when the biggest challenge of her nursing career presented itself" (Florence Nightingale Biography). Nightingale gave up the years of her youth, which could have been spent at social gatherings. She chose to study nursing, and then took a nursing job in a hospital for "ailing governesses," or women with poor health. In doing so, she put herself in danger of contracting various sorts of illnesses and diseases. Yet, even though she was aware of the risks of this job, she still continued to work in the horrid conditions. After becoming sick herself, she did not give up and return home. Instead, she stayed and became inspired to improve the hygiene of the hospital. After her work at the Middlesex hospital, she would continue to help others, despite her inadequate health. Her selflessness to devote her life to helping others despite such unfavorable conditions was a heroic and brave risk that sets her apart from other women at her time. She was willing to put others needs before her comforts, and others health before hers.

Nightingale was nicknamed
Nightingale was nicknamed

Before Nightingale worked in the Crimea, and even before she became a nurse, she worked hard to care for patients and tried to make her patients as clean and comfortable as possible. When Nightingale's mother would not let her work as a nurse, she found a way to help others: "Whenever possible, Florence made herself useful by caring for sick relatives. She found great satisfaction in easing their misery... She also went to the cottages of poor people who needed help, taking them food, clothes, medicine, whatever Fanny (her mother) would let her have" (Gena K. Gorrell 30-31). Even before she worked as a nurse, she voluntarily helped nurse her relatives back to health and was charitable to those less fortunate than her. Her affluence was used in a way many girls would be unwilling to use. Nightingale was aware of the world outside hers. She knew there were people struggling elsewhere, so she took action to help these people as much as she could. She worked not for the recognition or the profit, but rather for the satisfaction of helping others. Later, when Nightingale and a few other nurses were called to help in Crimea, they were shocked by the conditions of the hospital. The water and building itself were filthy and contaminated, and the hospital lacked basic supplies: "The no-nonsense Nightingale quickly set to work...Nightingale herself spent every waking minute caring for the soldiers. In the evenings she moved through the dark hallways carrying a lamp while making her rounds, ministering to patient after patient... Her work reduced the hospital's death rate by two-thirds. She instituted the creation of an "invalid's kitchen" where appealing food for patients with special dietary requirements was cooked. She established a laundry so patients would have clean linens. She also instituted a classroom and a library, for patients' intellectual stimulation and entertainment" (Florence Nightingale Biography). Nightingale worked untiring to improve the conditions of the hospitals, "spending every waking hour." She also genuinely cared about the soldiers' health, as she went from patient to patient to comfort them late at night. Her dedication to her work made a tremendous impact on the soldiers, largely reducing the mortality rate. The amenities Nightingale provided for the soldiers showed the consideration she had to make sure all the patients were comfortable and cared for. Nightingale was dedicated to her work and worked for the satisfaction of helping others. She worked with compassion and her methods proved successful, saving two-thirds of the soldiers during the Crimean War.

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The fiery passion she had when she saw all the things wrong that the hospitals were doing was what fueled Nightingale to reform the profession of nursing and the approach to healthcare in hospitals. When her family completely rejected her idea of becoming a nurse, she did not comply: "She was determined not to give up her dreams. Night after night, she studied, huddled in a shawl and working by candlelight... chart upon chart, notebook upon notebook, she built an impressive knowledge of sanitation and sickness" (Gena K. Gorrell 37-38). Her family's disapproval did not preclude her. Instead, Nightingale's dedication and determination to educate herself in nursing grew during the cold nights studying books and reports. By documenting the information she learned, she drew connections that led her to later improve hospitals conditions to include sanitation methods. After she finished her work in Crimea, she became sick herself: "Frail and feeble - badly underweight, unable to feed herself, barely able to talk" Florence defied the doctors, who said she should go home to England, and insisted on staying in the Crimea" (Gena K. Gorrell 82). Florence Nightingale had overworked herself to the point that she could barely even speak. At this point, most people would go back home and rest. But she disregarded the doctors and their advice and was determined to stay in Crimea and continue reforming hospitals. Since she was younger, she kept a flame alive in her that powered her to work all though her career, even to very extreme points at which most people would give up. And after working during the Crimean War, "Nightingale's work was far from finished: For the next fifty years, she kept fighting for hospital reform" (Charlie Deborah).

Throughout her life, Florence Nightingale worked hard to change the definition of a nurse. She gave nurses respect, education, and purpose. She created effective nurses, along with a better and purposeful healthcare system of hospitals where people could get treatment rather than perish. Nightingale is an inspiration, as she earned the respect of others through her hark work and dedication to help the people. Unlike many leaders, she used her position and affluence righteously to benefit others. She worked tirelessly, even when her own health deteriorated. Florence Nightingale has taught me to work for a greater purpose than for awards, salary, or admiration. Through her determination, she was able to save many people's lives, solve problems regarding the method of healthcare, bring light to the importance of nursing, teach effective nursing, and earn the respect of others. Nightingale is an important contributor to modern nursing, and was able to accomplish so much due to her resolve to reform healthcare. As she said, "Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better" (Florence Nightingale).

Works Cited
Charlie, Deborah, and Charlie Deborah. "Florence Nightingale." Great Lives From History: The Nineteenth Century (2007): 1.Biography Reference Center. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.
"Florence Nightingale Biography." A&E Networks Television, 2014. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. .
Gorrell, Gena K. Heart and Soul: The Story of Florence Nightingale. Toronto: Tundra, 2000. Print.
Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1992. Print.

Page created on 4/14/2014 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 4/14/2014 12:00:00 AM

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