Florence Nightingale. The name is synonymous with nursing. She is the founder of modern nursing, a scientist, humanitarian, and above all, a patient advocate. She was certainly a woman who was way ahead of her time, a visionary and a leader. And, what would be her reaction if she could see healthcare today? What stunning revelations would she impart to ensure quality-driven, equitable, accessible, and holistic healthcare for everyone? For starters, I’m sure she would view the technological advances as amazing and valuable, as they were not even conceivable in her time. Our wealth of scientific knowledge, abundance of medical equipment, and extensive network of healthcare facilities and personnel would most certainly seem overwhelming and even pretentious compared to 1800’s England. But how would she reconcile our excess in comparison to our access?
Nightingale was certainly an advocate for universal healthcare in the sense of available nursing care to all. She believed everyone deserved healthcare regardless of economic status, and she worked tirelessly to elevate patient care to the noble and respected profession that it is today, believing that disease and illness could be healed with patience and commitment and, above all else, compassion. I believe she would certainly question our lack of compassion and commitment to those who are unable to care for themselves.
Furthermore, what would she say upon discovering that financial considerations are always discussed prior to meeting patient needs. Payment is expected prior to services or even worse, there are no services within miles. That is primarily because it is not financially profitable to offer medical services in those areas for the reason that people who do not have access usually do not have the economic means to pay for services even if they were available. What would she say to the undeniable realization that healthcare is only for the wealthy or those who work for wealthy corporations that offer insurance policies? I think Nightingale would be extremely dismayed by the highly advanced, state of the art, scientific, profit driven, corporate run healthcare system of today. Needless to say, she would have sharp words of reprimand for the legislative and corporate entities that have helped to shape the healthcare we have come to accept and tolerate over the years.
Even in her day, Nightingale felt nursing was separate from the medical profession and hospital administration. How would she consider the fact that insurance and healthcare corporations exercise an overpowering control of healthcare, especially nursing. Through Nightingale, nursing was an autonomous profession owing to the fact that it was a new creation developed by nurses. There were no outside entities with demands or requirements. The role of a nurse was to advocate for her patients, as it still is today, but now we are governed by federal and state requirements, legal policies, and clinical protocols. There is an endless checklist of assignments that must be completed and observed before direct patient care even starts. And holistic care? Is that even possible in today’s clinical environment? If administering medications on time is a constant struggle and many times charting does not get done even at the end of the day, then how can we spend time sitting and talking with patients or family members to understand the emotional and mental and spiritual needs of our patients? We struggle to meet their physical and medical needs.
Even as she would be optimistic about the scientific knowledge and technological resources at our availability, she would look to the nurses for some clarification. Now that we have so many inequities within our system that not only impact patients, but nurses as well, what are we doing to advocate for our patients. What are we doing to advocate for ourselves? It is true, that the problems within our healthcare system cannot be corrected by nurses alone, but in order to stay true to our profession we must advocate for necessary changes. It is critical for our patients, our healthcare system, and the health of our nation. In addition, it is important that we maintain our commitment to our profession. Nurses are an essential component of the healthcare system, and we must recognize the authority of our expertise and influence. We are the most trusted professional in America. It is time that we live up to the standards exemplified by Florence Nightingale and stand united for change.