CDI’s Great Nurses in History Series: Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale posing

Nurses and their profession have evolved throughout history. While the practice of nursing predates the founding of the Catholic church, it became a recognized profession in the mid-1800s. The modern nursing movement was born thanks to the ardent efforts of a former British field nurse, Florence Nightingale. As part of CDI’s “Nurses in History” series, we’ll start with her, a historical figure whose name has become synonymous with generosity and charity.

Who Was Florence Nightingale?

In the 1850s, the Crimean War was raging across battlefields in what we now call the Middle East. Nightingale (who was born in Italy in 1820 and spent, by all accounts a comfortable childhood in Britain) was put in charge of taking care of British and their allied soldiers in Turkey. A solid follower of the Unitarian faith, she believed it her duty to relieve human suffering. In her professional life, she turned that faith into a mission. She broke with her family’s upper crust British societal tradition and sought training as a nurse in Germany. By 1854, Nightingale had received permission to take a group of 38 women to the front where she observed conditions she described as a “kingdom of hell.”

Nightingale Establishes Standards of Care for Soldiers

Upon arrival in what is now suburban Istanbul, she was granted permission to tour the ward, and was mortified by what she saw. Soldiers were suffering from conditions that were, she believed, causing them to die unnecessarily. Undeterred, she raised private funds with help from the Times of London to procure equipment and goods. As she slowly made improvements to the field hospital’s hygiene, invested in equipment, and made her very personal rounds throughout the night to the injured and the sick, she earned her now indelible nickname, “The Lady with the Lamp.”

Through her demands for improved sanitation and by providing even basic care for the soldiers, she drastically reduced their mortality rate and saved hundreds of lives. She risked greater peril by visiting Crimea, at the time, one of the most dangerous parts of the world. She stayed there until the treaty was signed in 1856.

Nightingale School of Nursing

Upon returning home to England, she used her social and political connections to press for a meeting with Queen Victoria. Because of Nightingale’s meticulously-kept war records, the Crown agreed to create a fund in her name. Nightingale used the £45,000 she was granted to open her Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas Hospital in London, which, despite her health issues she encountered on the front, opened in 1860.

Patient and Statistical Modeling

Florence wasn’t just a woman with a big Christian heart. It was her record keeping that truly sets her apart, and those statistical models changed both her profession and healthcare forever. One example is the Coxcomb chart, which she used to establish patient mortality models. She published the text “Notes on Nursing,” and it’s still in publication today. She also developed a model for localized healthcare, noting that the most needy and vulnerable among us are almost always the poorest (especially children).

Founder of Modern Nursing and Nursing Education

Nightingale is rightly considered the founder of both modern nursing and nursing education. She took what had once been a tradition of philanthropy from the church and codified it into the respected profession it remains today. She was also a brilliant scholar, inventing permanent data collection models that transformed how healthcare facilities monitored and treated patients.

We thought it was appropriate to start our series on historical nurses with the very nurse who created formalized nursing education. If you’re ready to follow in her footsteps, as well as the millions of other nurses who have done the same, please click here to enroll in our LVN school or call us at 1-310-559-0225.


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