How Florence Nightingale changed nursing

13 May 2021 By Michael Bowyer

​An influential figure in the history of nursing, Florence Nightingale is often considered the first professional nurse and commonly referred to as the ‘Mother of nursing’. Nightingale transformed nursing as an occupation into a respectable career for women. She chose to pursue nursing and its associated challenges and triumphs rather than enter into a conventional marriage of the time, where she would live a life of wealth, luxury and idleness. Her choice to not only pursue the more difficult and demanding career of nursing, but to also revolutionise it and educate hundreds of other nurses is extremely admirable.

Born on 12th May 1820, last year marked the 200th anniversary of her death and as an advocate for hygiene practices such as hand-washing, her substantial contributions to nursing that have influenced the very nature of modern healthcare are particularly relevant today in the wake of a global pandemic.

The importance of Florence Nightingale in nursing history

First gaining recognition for leading at team of 38 nurses to staff an overseas hospital for British soldiers during the Crimean War, Nightingale’s talents as a nurse and interest in developments and medical research meant she was able to teach many nurses some truly revolutionary ideas – at the time – that are still practiced today.

Florence Nightingale’s contribution to nursing

1. Hygiene

Florence Nightingale’s contributions to nursing are legendary, but her demonstration that simple handwashing and good hygiene can prevent infection and save lives seem particularly fitting for the current climate.

2. Notes on Nursing

In 1860, Florence Nightingale wrote a short treatise called ‘Notes on Nursing’ where she stated that nurses should wash their hands as often as possible, and that the five essential points in securing the household health were:

  • Pure air

  • Pure water

  • Efficient drainage

  • Cleanliness

  • Light

3. Education

Florence Nightingale campaigned tirelessly to improve health standards and published over 200 books. She also heavily influenced nursing by providing a formal education structure and established the first professional training school for nurses, the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’ Hospital, and established a School of Midwifery nursing at King’s College Hospital.

4. Evidence-based nursing

One of Nightingale’s most important contributions to nursing was her evidence-based approach that originated during the Crimean War. After realising the correlation between poor hygiene standards and an increase in patient mortality, she focused her efforts on keeping the wards disinfected and sanitary which resulted in a decrease in death rates amongst the wounded soldiers.

Since Nightingale’s work in 1850, evidence-based practice has evolved and enhanced due to the rise in technology. The decision-making process for clinicians has been transformed, as emerging tech is implemented into daily patient care to ensure nurses provide high quality care while maintaining the safety of their patients.

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