“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music that he hears, however measured or far away.” This quote is attributed to Henry David Thoreau, (Walden, 1854) not Florence Nightingale, but it certainly can describe Florence, particularly in early life. Florence, you can say, “had it all”: wealth, education, a doting extended family, and a life of leisure, which included the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world. Even her name was given because she was born in Florence, Italy, during her parents' 3-year honeymoon tour of Europe. But inside Florence, “the different drummer” quietly but steadily beat, and her life was compelled to seek until she could find or, in her case, create the music she heard.
After years of searching, Florence determined that “nursing,” a practice every woman engaged in, was not simply a matter of kindness and care, but rather a body of knowledge, an art and a science. She never lost sight of her goal that nursing should become a profession in its own right, and not a branch of medicine. Nursing at that time was reserved for nuns in Germany, Ireland, and France, or for family and friends caring for relatives who were ill. Florence felt nursing was her “calling” and her mission. Once she discovered nursing, she pursued it for more than 50 years until the last moment of her life. Her dedication has a good deal to do with how and why we are nursing today.