04 March 2008

Maladies & Treatments:
Florence Nightingale

By Marianne LaCroix

Florence Nightingale. It is a name we all recognize, but what exactly is so important about her? She is the woman who established the importance of sanitary conditions in a medical environment as well as nursing standards used today such as good nutrition, proper rest and gentle human caring.

Florence was born in Italy and named after the city of her birth. Born to privileged parents, Florence was educated at home by her Cambridge educated father. She was vibrant and admired socially, and her family expected her to marry well. However, in 1837 she believed she was called upon God to go about her work, issuing her a calling that would drive her into history.

Her parents refused to let her become a nurse as it was deemed unsuitable profession for an educated woman in the mid 1800s. She was sent on a trip to Europe with some family friends. In Germany in 1850 she visited Pastor Theodor Fliedner's hospital and school for deaconesses at Kaiserswerth, near Dusseldorf. She returned to the hospital the next year to study nursing despite her family’s conflict.

Florence came to international recognition during the Crimean War (France and Turkey's war on Russia in 1854). She was appointed by Sidney Herbert, the Minister at War, to introduce female nurses into military hospitals in Turkey. Initially male doctors did not want the women’s assistance, but within days, the 38 nurses' services were indispensable.

The conditions in Scutari (modern-day Üsküdar in Istanbul) at the Selimiye Barracks were desperate. Patients were overcrowded and suffered from poor nutrition. Medicine was scarce. Hygiene neglected. Infection ran rampant, often times fatal. Sickness like typhus cholera, dysentery and typhoid took a grave toll more often than infection from battle wounds. Florence and her nurses took to cleaning the hospital conditions and organizing patient care. Sewers were flush and ventilation improved. After her arrival, the death rate dropped dramatically.

During the war, Florence earned the name "Lady with the Lamp," an image derived from an article reported in the British newspaper, The Times:
She is a 'ministering angel' without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow's face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.
After the war, Florence continued her pioneering of nursing care and wrote several works including Notes on Nursing: What Nursing Is, What Nursing is Not (1860). She excelled in statistics and compiled reports on the conditions of medical care and public health.

Before her death in 1910 at age 90, she was awarded the Royal Red Cross by Queen Victoria and was the first woman to receive the Order of Merit. She has influenced worldwide practices in nursing and has several schools named in honor of her, including the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery where she established a nursing training school in 1860.

Florence Nightingale

All hail the tireless work of nurses!

Marianne LaCroix
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