If you’re a nurse, then you’re the beneficiary of a long legacy of care. The most prominent figure of that legacy is Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. Medical science has advanced since Nightingale’s day, but many of the values, ideas, and teachings she advocated for are still applicable today. These are a few lessons from the life of Florence Nightingale we still take to heart at Joyce University well over a century later. Just as Nightingale passed them on to generations of nurses, we endeavor to pass them on to our students.
Related resource: 10 Famous Nurses in History That Revolutionized Healthcare
Florence Nightingale wasn’t supposed to be a nurse. When she grew up in the first half of the 1800s, women of her class and station were supposed to marry well and not pursue careers of their own. Had Nightingale’s family had their way, she would have led an easier, more comfortable life of wealth and security. Nightingale, however, resisted these conventions and eventually became a nurse in the Crimean War of 1853-56. She saw war, human suffering, and hardship up close — and then did something about it.
For many nurses, nursing is more than just a job. It’s a vocation. It’s something you’re called to. Nurses choose a life of long shifts, hard problems, and human vulnerability. But they do it anyway. Plenty of students pass through our doors with the drive to do something that’s meaningful, difficult, and satisfying. Nightingale understood that when she chose to go to Crimea, and we continue to carry on her drive today.
One of Nightingale’s most important innovations was her emphasis on hospital cleanliness and sanitation. Her famous “Notes on Nursing,” first published in 1859, devotes several sections to cleanliness and patient environment. When she first began her career, many hospitals were filthy. Patients were often stuffed in cramped quarters, served inferior food, and left to suffer. Nightingale insisted on bringing light and fresh air into what had been a dank quagmire, improving patients’ quality of life as they recovered.
That emphasis on the whole person and their environment continues to inform the work we do at Joyce. Wellness and well-being is still a main focus of holistic nursing, something we emphasize. Narrowly treating a single symptom or focusing on one issue is never enough. You also have to make sure the person is well in a broad sense.
Related resource: What Is Holistic Problem Solving?
Nightingale’s not just famous for her approach to hospital environments. She also documented the rate and spread of disease in the Crimean War, and created clear, easy-to-read charts that resemble modern graphs. It’s totally sensible to call Florence Nightingale the inventor of the infographic, and nurses today still have a commitment to documentation and data just like Nightingale did. While modern nurses might not spend their shifts charting the ravages of war or epidemics, Nightingale did emphasize the importance of collecting and keeping good data. Ask any nurse what they do all day, and they’ll probably mention charting. Nightingale, like the rest of us, did plenty of that. We carry on her legacy every time we record a data point.
Nightingale’s influence reaches further than just graphs and charts, though. Her real power was inspiring legions of other nurses to provide care to their patients in a comprehensive manner. Today, at Joyce University, our belief in holistic nursing is informed by Nightingale’s commitment to make a patient’s environment as clean, functional, and humane as possible. She didn’t just treat diagnoses, she treated people. She approached her patients with empathy and humanity, and gave them hope. It’s our mission to ensure that our graduates do that as well, each and every shift.