Whatcha Know about Flo (Florence Nightingale)?

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    In this article the author tells some of the story of Florence Nightingale and relates it to contemporary nursing challenges.

    Whatcha Know about Flo (Florence Nightingale)?

    Florence Nightingale is famous for her pioneering nursing education, her development of statistical analysis and her improvements on methods of care delivery. She is also famous because she was “the woman with the lamp,” a caring nurse who walked around late at night in the barracks, amongst the wounded soldiers, dispensing comfort and a big dose of healing therapy.

    What in the world does Flo have to say to us today? In this world of EMRs, diagnostic testing, and multi-disciplined care, what do we has nurses uniquely offer to our patients? How can we continue to be outstanding patient advocates as well as thinking professionals who constantly look for ways to do things better? In this day of increasingly depersonalized care, how do we keep making a difference?

    Nightingale was born to English aristocracy. She was wealthy and travelled widely but she rebelled at following the usual roles laid out for women of her time. Instead, following what she regarded as a divine call, she dedicated her life and considerable intellect to improving the care that soldiers received as they recuperated from war, especially during the Crimean War. She observed entirely new practices of hygiene and cleanliness—despite strong opposition. In addition to saving hundreds of lives, she is credited with using scientific process to change practice. She kept careful records and published statistical analyses of her work. A mathematical prodigy from an early age, she harnessed her mind and applied it well to practical, every day problems.

    As professional nurses who seek to emulate Nightingale and others like her, we have a strong responsibility to continue to think clearly, to use our intelligence and training to continue to make strides in our work. What are some guiding principles we can apply?


    1. Keep our eye on the ball. In athletics, players are admonished to focus on what they are doing and to selectively tune out anything besides the main event. As nurses, we too have to keep our attention focused on our patients, giving them the priority. With the fragmentation of patient care, we are often the only persons on the care team that have the big picture in mind. As team players, we need to do an excellent job of communicating the patient’s story, of hearing what is said around the bedside, of connecting the dots related to the patient’s care. I remember the elderly woman who came in with pneumonia. She was a very attractive older lady and in talking with her casually, I could not detect what the family later told me: although she could carry on a good casual conversation, her memory was simply “gone.” This bit of information helped to guide the care team in sending her home with home health instead of to rehab because that was simply a better fit for her.
    2. Don’t let the EMR rule the day. With all the computer work that is required, there is often little time for face-to-face interaction and for that extra measure of comfort. Despite the limits of time, touch, attention and eye contact— all of that old fashioned “lady and the lamp” care— never cease to be critical. As professional nurses, we continue to hone our listening skills, to increase our ability to be empathetic and to use our scientific knowledge to help our patients. I remember when I had a family member in the hospital and the nurse came in to give her medication. She did what she needed to do and then—she sat down. I mean, she took a seat and sat down! She only sat for about a minute, but it was long enough to make an impression. Her act said to us: “I am with you. I can’t fix it, but I want to help by being here.” We have never forgotten that.
    3. Pioneer something. Back in the 1850’s when Flo was laying the groundwork for modern nursing, there was plenty that needed fixing. Nowadays, we all hope that we have made a little progress in terms of germ theory and modern application of those scientific discoveries. But the truth is, there is always room for improvement. We all make mistakes. We begin to see the patient as a collection of lab results and diagnostic tests, and we forget to listen to some of what they are telling us. From improvements in hand washing to basic skin care to catheter care to wound healing, there is a constant stream of new areas to be explored, documented, changed. In recent years we have seen dramatic improvements in lives saved because of cardiac and stroke protocols, Foley catheter care and discontinuance, CHF follow up, etc. As medical care has progressed, we have gone from innovative and truly astounding developments in transplantation and stenting to a point where we are now looking in the rear view mirror and wondering if we need a more comprehensive approach to death and dying—truly a new frontier awaits!

    Marianne Williamson wrote, “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” As professionals who seek to spread the light of good care and of thorough and useful knowledge, we identify with Williamson’s thoughts. Florence Nightingale got us started off right, now it’s up to us to not let that light go out but to instead, keep carrying it and sharing it.

    Joy Eastridge
    Last edit by Joe V on Oct 12
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    About jeastridge

    Joy has been a nurse for 30+ years in a variety of settings. She enjoys long walks, cooking for crowds and spending time with her grandkids.

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    9 Comments

  3. by   tnbutterfly
    Joy, I love this contemporary perspective of Flo. She would be pleased.
  4. by   mmc51264
    I have the same birthday as hers!!!!!!
  5. by   amoLucia
    Quote from mmc51264
    I have the same birthday as hers!!!!!!
    My RN sister too.
  6. by   wondern
    Got me wondering so I just had to look up her birthday!

    I like how your family member's nurse took a minute to just sit and be still with y'all. How comforting calmness can be.


    Florence Nightingale, OM, RRC, DStJ was an English social reformer and statistician, and the founder of modern nursing. Wikipedia
    Born: May 12, 1820, Florence, Italy
    Died: August 13, 1910, Mayfair, London, United Kingdom
    Education: King's College London
    Award: Order of Merit

    Last edit by wondern on Oct 5
  7. by   Knotanoonurse
    I just visited the Nightingale Museum in London. My husband and I took the Bus to the London Eye. It stopped right outside St. Thomas Hospital where signs pointed us to the museum. Lots of great artifacts and stories. I love the pics of nurses over the years!
  8. by   KatieMI
    Yep, subway to Grayfriars, then 10 min walk. Or right across Victoria bridge.

    The museum is truly amazing. So, a couple more facts about Ms. Nightingale:

    - she actually did very little of bedside care. Her famous "rounds with the lamp", if any of them actually took place, were about getting things into order.
    - she was a born manager. Sharp, creative, resourceful, not always pleasant to deal with, but able to make people to get things done.
    - to accompish the above, she liked to drive others crazy with her multiple maladies, most of which were classified as "hysteria" even at her lifetime. Her letters describing them are on exhibition and everyone can read them if able to drag through ol' good Victorian handwriting. I did, and the content truly reminded me some of my office patients who live under modus operandi of "I ALWAYS get what I want, when I want, and exactly the way I want it".
    - she was, at her time, probably the best European applied statistics specialist. The Lords of Admiralty knew all along that 30% of soldiers died from diarrhea, malaria and such shortly after they arrived in Scutari, and another half of survivors didn't make it through wounds which otherwise would be classified as deep cuts and scratches due to sepsis and malnutrition. Flo put all that in stat tables, and the numbers cried out louder than any human could
    - she invented heavy, difficult to manage uniforms of her first nursing squad in Scutari with one very clear purpose in mind: the nurses, mostly of gentry origin, would have to be around young men who didn't see a woman for months, and heavy and difficult to remove (and, accidentally, also difficult to put on and keep clean, on which many nurses complained) dresses, aprons and ribbons were to serve as a sort of protection. Flo'd never get married, but she was very far from being naive!
    - she had a very sharp mind where it came to critical review of current research. For one example, she embraced "bacterial theory", which at that time was highly controversial. People still believed in "miasms" and "bad air".
    - accordingly, she despised "uneducated" women who followed the armies since times immemorial and sold soldiers necessary things such as alcohol, which Flo totally abhorred. Even when those women had a lot of practical knowledge in caring for wounded, Flo was very much against their presence and participation
    - Russian troops during Crimean War also had first nursing corps formed by a famous surgeon N. Pirogov. The main difference between Russian nurses and Flo's ones was that in Russia around that time women, especially of noble origin (which were the majority among nurses on both sides) were de facto not allowed any education except in languages, handiwork, fine arts and religion. Therefore, everything they actually could do while dealing with mass war caualties was holding hands, praying aloud, making supplies and keeping things as clean and neat as possible. The concept still prevailing in Russia of "nurse as a doctor's helper", not a partner, stems directly from there. In Europe, on the other hand, ladies could receive education in science even if strictly within their own homes, and there were many hospitals traditionally led by nuns, who were quite abreast with modern medical views and theories while remaining "traditional" in every other way. The "beguinage" nuns who fully ran hospital in Brudges (modern Belgium) were in fact closer in modern Advanced Practice Nurses in their functions than to "traditional" nursing or anything else. Flo spent quite some time in that place. (of note, the hospital was functional from XII century to 1990th, and a small part of it is still partially open as a modern mental health care asylim).

    I really would like to know if there is a way to post pics I did in these museums, for the benefits of those who won't get a chance to visit it any time soon. If anyone from the Forum admins would please let me know how to do it, that would be appreciated.
  9. by   jeastridge
    [QUOTE=wondern;9598021]Got me wondering so I just had to look up her birthday!

    I like how your family member's nurse took a minute to just sit and be still with y'all. How comforting calmness can be.


    Florence Nightingale, OM, RRC, DStJ was an English social reformer and statistician, and the founder of modern nursing. Wikipedia
    Born: May 12, 1820, Florence, Italy
    Died: August 13, 1910, Mayfair, London, United Kingdom
    Education: King's College London
    Award: Order of Merit

    [/QUOTE

    Thanks for posting the pictures. They are a nice addition to the article. Joy
  10. by   jeastridge
    Quote from KatieMI
    Yep, subway to Grayfriars, then 10 min walk. Or right across Victoria bridge.

    The museum is truly amazing. So, a couple more facts about Ms. Nightingale:

    - she actually did very little of bedside care. Her famous "rounds with the lamp", if any of them actually took place, were about getting things into order.
    - she was a born manager. Sharp, creative, resourceful, not always pleasant to deal with, but able to make people to get things done.
    - to accompish the above, she liked to drive others crazy with her multiple maladies, most of which were classified as "hysteria" even at her lifetime. Her letters describing them are on exhibition and everyone can read them if able to drag through ol' good Victorian handwriting. I did, and the content truly reminded me some of my office patients who live under modus operandi of "I ALWAYS get what I want, when I want, and exactly the way I want it".
    - she was, at her time, probably the best European applied statistics specialist. The Lords of Admiralty knew all along that 30% of soldiers died from diarrhea, malaria and such shortly after they arrived in Scutari, and another half of survivors didn't make it through wounds which otherwise would be classified as deep cuts and scratches due to sepsis and malnutrition. Flo put all that in stat tables, and the numbers cried out louder than any human could
    - she invented heavy, difficult to manage uniforms of her first nursing squad in Scutari with one very clear purpose in mind: the nurses, mostly of gentry origin, would have to be around young men who didn't see a woman for months, and heavy and difficult to remove (and, accidentally, also difficult to put on and keep clean, on which many nurses complained) dresses, aprons and ribbons were to serve as a sort of protection. Flo'd never get married, but she was very far from being naive!
    - she had a very sharp mind where it came to critical review of current research. For one example, she embraced "bacterial theory", which at that time was highly controversial. People still believed in "miasms" and "bad air".
    - accordingly, she despised "uneducated" women who followed the armies since times immemorial and sold soldiers necessary things such as alcohol, which Flo totally abhorred. Even when those women had a lot of practical knowledge in caring for wounded, Flo was very much against their presence and participation
    - Russian troops during Crimean War also had first nursing corps formed by a famous surgeon N. Pirogov. The main difference between Russian nurses and Flo's ones was that in Russia around that time women, especially of noble origin (which were the majority among nurses on both sides) were de facto not allowed any education except in languages, handiwork, fine arts and religion. Therefore, everything they actually could do while dealing with mass war caualties was holding hands, praying aloud, making supplies and keeping things as clean and neat as possible. The concept still prevailing in Russia of "nurse as a doctor's helper", not a partner, stems directly from there. In Europe, on the other hand, ladies could receive education in science even if strictly within their own homes, and there were many hospitals traditionally led by nuns, who were quite abreast with modern medical views and theories while remaining "traditional" in every other way. The "beguinage" nuns who fully ran hospital in Brudges (modern Belgium) were in fact closer in modern Advanced Practice Nurses in their functions than to "traditional" nursing or anything else. Flo spent quite some time in that place. (of note, the hospital was functional from XII century to 1990th, and a small part of it is still partially open as a modern mental health care asylim).

    I really would like to know if there is a way to post pics I did in these museums, for the benefits of those who won't get a chance to visit it any time soon. If anyone from the Forum admins would please let me know how to do it, that would be appreciated.
    Thank you very much for adding the information from your trip to the museum. It was really interesting to read and adds more perspective and depth to the article. Joy
  11. by   wondern
    Your welcome!

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