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Lady with a Lamp: Reflections on the Life and Impact of Florence Nightingale

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    Lady with a Lamp: Reflections on the Life and Impact of Florence Nightingale Introduction “A lady with a lamp shall stand in the great history of the land,” proclaimed Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1857) in his poem “Santa Filomena. ” Wadsworth was, of course, reflecting upon the great many contributions to society made by Florence Nightingale. How prophetic that simple phrase would come to be. So insightful are those words, that even today, 150 years later, the world continues to reflect upon the life of Miss Nightingale and the impact she had on the profession of nursing and health reform. urpose of paper, points to be covered in the paper? The reflections of Nightingale in history books record her as the first true professional nurse. Known as the “Matriarch of Modern Nursing,” (Pfettsher, as cited in Toomey & Alligood, 2001), Nightingale’s accomplishments include establishing the value of nursing in improving patient outcome, establishing the first school of nursing, and of course writing her now famous, “Notes on Nursing. ” Nightingale “spent many years fighting for public policy reform related to health” (Hawks, 2002).

    Her impact on the care of wounded soldiers during the Crimean War is well documented. Additionally, the field of nursing recognizes Miss Nightingale as the “creative founder of modern nursing and its first nursing theorist” (Pfettsher, as cited in Toomey & Alligood, 2002). These facts are generally known. There are many less known facets to Miss Nightingale’s life. Florence was born May 12, 1820 in Florence, Italy, “in the midst of the so called ‘Dark Period of Nursing’’’ (Bristol, 2002). She was named after the city of her birth. Her parents, affluent British citizens, William Edward and Frances, maintained two homes.

    One home was near London, and afforded the family the opportunity to enjoy the British social seasons of that era. William, a Cambridge University graduate, took it upon himself to educate his two daughters. Such subjects such as mathematics and philosophy were included in their studies. Florence was by far the academic child. At an early age, it was readily apparent that Florence had “an ability to grasp and analyze immense complexity and present her findings in a succinct and lucid style” (Hawks, 2002). This would prove to be an invaluable trait in later years.

    Throughout Florence’s extensive writings, she often reflected on her entrance into the field of nursing. In 1837, while in the gardens of the family’s Embley estate, she “heard the voice of God calling to do his work” (Florence Nightingale, website UK, 2002). Florence began to focus her concern on social issues. She made sick visits to the homes of local villagers. This led her to investigate nursing and hospital care. Because nursing was considered unsuitable for a well-educated woman, Florence’s family forbade her from entering nursing. In 1850, and against her family’s wishes, she began her month training as a nurse in Kaiserwerth.

    Three years later, she became the Superintendent for Gentlewomen during Illness in London. The Crimean War began in 1854. The Minister of War received heavy criticism over the treatment of wounded British soldiers. Stung by the criticism, and being aquainted with Florence and her family, he appointed Florence to oversee the introduction of female nurses in military hospitals. Arriving in Turkey in November of 1854, Florence and 38 nurses were met with much scorn and resistance. The nurses quickly proved their value. Florence, known for making rounds at all hours of the day, thus became known, as the “Lady with a Lamp. Her hard work earned the undying gratitude and respect of the soldiers. So successful was Florence and her nurses, that in 1855, a public subscription was initiated to enable Florence to continue her reforms in civilian hospitals. In 1856, Florence was appointed the Female Establishment of the Military Hospitals of the Army. It was in this position that Florence worked on a campaign to investigate the health of the British Army. Through the use of statistical data and remarkable scientific inquiry, Florence was able to prove the value of her ideas and methods and institute reform throughout the military and in to the general public.

    Her scientific and statistical approach caused her to be elected a Fellow of the Statistical Society in 1860, the first woman to achieve that award. Florence established the Nightingale School for Nurses at St. Thomas Hospital in 1860. In her school, students received one year’s worth of training. Her most famous work, “Notes on Nursing” was published later that same year. Interestingly, Miss Nightingale continued most of her work from her home. Florence contracted chronic brucellosis during the Crimean War, and in the latter part of her life, she considered herself “weak. ” From her home, she wrote “over 200 articles and books.

    She also wrote over 13,000 letters” (Hawks, 2002). It is nothing short of miraculous that so much was accomplished through the efforts of one woman in a distant era. To fully understand the magnitude of her work, her life history must be reviewed. Reflecting on the lasting impact of Miss Nightingale, several ideas immediately come to mind. In her own words, Nightingale (1860) believed “disease to be a reparative process,” a state influenced and even contrived as a result of a person’s environment. Through diligent work, observation of the patient manipulation of the environment, disease could be cured or even prevented. The want of fresh air, or of light, or of warmth, or of quiet, or of cleanliness, or of punctuality and care of the administration of diet” (Nightingale, 1860) are the foundations of her nursing theory. Nightingale was a true advocate for nursing education. She firmly believed that all nurses should be trained to provide quality nursing care, become astute observers of the patient and his environment and be diligent in her duties. Nightingale wanted professional nurses to be advocates for their patients. She recognized that patients should be allowed to participate in their self-care.

    Nightingale began to define the nurse’s “professional relationship with their patients; she instructed them on the principle of confidentiality and advocated for the poor to improve their health and social situation” (Pfettsher, as cited in Toomey & Alligood, 2001). Her work was the underpinnings of the concept of public health. Lastly, Nightingale “transformed nursing into a profession of science, a place with standards and a haven for the sick” (Bristol, 2002). Her systematic method of inquiry and use of statistics forever changed the face of healthcare standards.

    Reflecting on today’s state of nursing, it is clear, that the lamp of Florence Nightingale remains as brilliant today as it was in Wadsworth’s poem. The field of nursing has grown and continues to define and refine itself to meet the ever-changing needs of the world’s population. Nursing uses Nightingale’s ideas as a stimulus for thought, dialogue and experimentation. Though nursing has advanced scientifically over the years, Nightingale’s work remains a brilliant example of compassion, caring, self-examination and willingness to fight for change when change is needed. This is the very heart of nursing itself. The important part Florence Nightingale played in the history of nursing and the important concepts of serving and giving” (Castledine, 2002) reveal a tremendous impact on the field of nursing. Every nurse should reflect Nightingale’s ideals in her practice. Each nurse should hold her lamp and allow it to shine to allow all to experience and visualize the vision of nursing, created from the heart and soul of an incredible woman. Summarize major points in the paper? References Bristol. S. Florence nightingale,where are you?. [Electronic Version]. Nebraska Nurse 2002. March-May. 35(1): 18 Castledine,George.

    Giving and serving are key elements in nursing. [Electronic Version]. British Journal of Nursing. May 5, 2002-May 22, 2002. Volume 11. Issue 9. Nightingale, Florence. Notes on nursing. 1860. Dover Publications, Inc. New York. 1969. Nightingale, Florence website. www. florence-nighingale. co. uk. September 25, 2002 Hawks, Jane H. Lessons from Florence nightingale. [Electronic Version]. Urologic Nursing. August 2002. Volume 22. Number 4. Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. Santa filomena. Atlantic Monthly. 1 (1). Toomey, Ann & Alligood, Martha. Nursing theorists and their works 5th edition. Moby Co. 2001

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