When I am no longer even a memory, just a name, I hope my voice may perpetuate the great work of my life. God bless my dear old comrades of Balaclava and bring them safe to shore.
You can listen to the words above spoken by Florence Nightingale on July 30, 1890, on an online archived recording.1 Little did she know then the impact her life and work would have on the development of nursing science. She is known as the founder of modern nursing, and during her service in the Crimean War, she earned the affectionate nicknames “Angel of Crimea” and “Lady with the Lamp.” The first school for the professional training of nurses was founded at St. Thomas Hospital in London under Nightingale's leadership. The Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery, & Palliative Care, as it is known today, still exists within King's College London.
St. Thomas also houses the Florence Nightingale Museum, which, in addition to being the historical repository for her legacy, actively engages the community. Nightingale is undoubtedly remembered and admired. Worldwide, International Nurses Day is celebrated annually on May 12, her birthday. In the US, National Nurses Week is celebrated every May 6-12, culminating on her birthday. The lamp is a universal symbol used in nursing to represent Florence Nightingale and her transformative work.
Changing systems of care
Nightingale's famous work, Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not has been influential in shaping the field of nursing as we know it today. In the book, Nightingale states, “In watching diseases... the thing that strikes the experienced observer most forcibly is this, that the symptoms or the sufferings generally considered to be inevitable and incident to the disease are very often not symptoms of the disease at all, but of something quite different—of the want of fresh air, or of light, or of warmth, or of quiet, or of cleanliness, or of punctuality and care in the administration of diet, of each or all of these.”2
Here, she is referring to basic human needs that, if not met, would provoke nature to begin a “reparative process,” which we call disease. The nursing role was meant to assist patients and nature in this process through changing systems of care. The human response to basic needs has not changed, but nursing science and practice have evolved significantly.
International Nurses Day
Nursing today is so diverse that if Nightingale were alive, she would be darting about to observe and record what nurses were doing and how their actions influenced health outcomes. The 2019 theme for International Nurses Day is “Nurses: A Voice to Lead: Health for All.” According to the International Council of Nurses, “Nurses are essential in transforming health care and health systems such that no person is left behind, without access to care or impoverished because of their need for health care.”3 That statement is reminiscent of Nightingale's words.
As you look at the health status of citizens in your communities, consider what is within your capability to change, no matter how small it may seem, to help alleviate suffering and pain (disease) of those who “want.” I think Nightingale would say that nursing today is exactly what she envisioned for the future.
Jamesetta A. Newland, PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP, DPNAP, FAAN