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15 Florence Nightingale Facts Every Nurse Should Know

May 10th, 2011


Most students, in nursing school or otherwise, have heard of the famous Florence Nightingale. Yet many may not know some of the most interesting and amazing facts about her life that make her such an inspiration to those in the nursing profession around the world. In honor of National Nurse Week, take some time to read through these facts about one of the most famous pioneers in the field. You might just get inspired to lead your own health care revolution.

  1. Born into a wealthy, upper class family in the early 19th century, Nightingale was never expected to pursue her own career. Her family wanted her to get married and have children, not work in a hospital. Yet she rejected marriage proposals, fearing that they would get in the way of her work, and pushed on with her career in spite of it being a great point of contention with her family.
  2. She got her name "Lady with the Lamp" from the lamp she carried with her as she checked on patients in the battlefield hospital during the Crimean War. She had a habit of checking on patients in the middle of the night while carrying a simple oil lamp, a romantic image of nursing that survives to this day in her legacy.
  3. She would play an instrumental role in setting up proper military hospitals in the United States during the American Civil War. Her experience in the Crimean War, along with her reputation for revolutionizing nursing care, made her an ideal choice to advise how the army should set up hospitals in the U.S. While she faced some initial opposition, her ideas were generally adapted.
  4. Nightingale founded the first secular nursing school in the world at St. Thomas' Hospital in London. It is still there today, training nurses for work as RNs and midwives and happens to be the number one nursing school in London.
  5. She traveled extensively, studying hospitals in places like Greece, Egypt and Germany– journeys which would be the inspiration for her career in nursing. It was during her time in Egypt that Nightingale wrote of feeling "called to God" to a career in nursing and when she returned to Europe, stopping in Germany she spent four months training at The Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine. When she returned home, she was ready to begin her nursing career in earnest.
  6. Nightingale's own aunt worked under her during the Crimean War. Helping her tend to the wounded, along with 37 other women, her Aunt Mai Smith was by her side to work in the Ottoman Empire in the fall of 1854.
  7. At the beginning of the war, Nightingale believed high death rates in military hospitals were due to poor nutrition, lack of supplies and overworking of the soldiers. It was not until after she returned to Britain and was reviewing her work that she came to believe that most of the soldiers at the hospital were killed by poor living conditions. This understanding would change not only how she operated, but how nursing as a profession would be carried out.
  8. Nightingale was a proponent of medical tourism. Today, many individuals travel to foreign lands to get medical treatment that doesn't cost the astronomical sums that it does in America. It was no different in Nightingale's time and she was known to advise patients on smaller incomes to travel to places like Turkey, where they could have access to spas, medical treatment and good nutrition at a much lower cost.
  9. During her time in the war, she contracted Crimean Fever. She nearly died herself while trying to nurse the wounded men back to health, contracting a form of typhus, a disease from which many of her coworkers and patients would die. While she recovered from her illness, it would cause medical issues that would confine her to bed rest for much of her later life.
  10. Florence had a great love of mathematics and devoted much time in her later life to using statistics to better understand health care. She is credited with starting a health revolution in India, collecting data from military outposts through the mail and creating a detailed report based on the stats she was able to compile. Her findings helped push forth changes that would reduce the high death rates of soldiers and would improve health care and sanitation for everyday people as well.
  11. In 1883, Queen Victoria awarded Florence Nightingale with the Royal Red Cross and in 1907 she became the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit. She is still a highly honored figure in England and around the world, with numerous awards and colleges named after her.
  12. Nightingale's book Notes on Nursing is still a classic read for nursing students today. It may not be up-to-date, but the fundamentals it lays out for patient care, cleanliness and treatment can be applied to modern health care settings as well.
  13. In the 1870s, Nightingale mentored Linda Richards, "America's first trained nurse." When she returned to the US with her newly acquired training, Richards was able to establish high-quality nursing schools, spreading information, training and expertise throughout the US and Japan.
  14. Nightingale was offered a place of burial in Westminster Abbey. This honor isn't handed out lightly and is usually reserved for royals, cultural elites and religious figures. Yet Nightingale's family chose a more humble burial for her, one that she would surely have appreciated, in the graveyard at St. Margaret Church in East Wellow, Hampshire.
  15. Her early writings are considered major texts in English Feminism. While not published until after her death, essays like Nightingale's "Cassandra" showcase her feelings about a woman's role in the world quite clearly. Nightingale believed that women were often unnecessarily deemed as helpless when they were quite capable and chided women like her sister and mother who chose a life of leisure despite being highly educated.


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