Latest posts by Toni Hoffman (see all)

Nursing has evolved throughout the years in response to societal changes and it is a fascinating history. When someone mentions Florence Nightingale they speak of the Crimean War and the “Lady with the Lamp” But Florence was much more than that. She was a statistician, a trailblazer and a whistleblower. Florence was born in Italy on May 12th 1820. Her parents were on a very long voyage of discovery in Europe and she was named after the city of her birth. At a young age she expressed the wish that she wanted to help people and she would go with her parents to take food to the poor on their estate. She was born into a very wealthy, well connected family and she did not hesitate to use these connections to improve the conditions of her patients. Florence went to Germany to study nursing with the Deaconess’s at Kaiserworth. She also studied in Egypt. She was a well educated woman with many interests , well read and she spoke several languages. In November 1854 Florence and thirty eight trained nurses went to Scutari in Turkey to care for wounded British soldiers. They were appalled at the conditions they found there and set about improving the lot of the soldiers. Florence had sent an impassioned plea to the TIMES newspaper highlighting the conditions in Scutari. In response to this, the government commissioned a prefabricated hospital that could be built in the UK and transported to Turkey. This hospital called Renkioi hospital had a death rate of less than 1/10 that at Scutari. Florence was a statistician, she was the first person to use the pie chart and it is said the mortality rate fell from 42% to 2% under Florence’s lead. Florence encouraged hand washing and recognised the need for clean patients, fresh air and adequate food. On her return to England she prepared evidence to present before the Royal Commission into the Health of the Army. The Nightingale Fund was set up in her honour to provide funds for training nurses and on her return to the UK she set up a nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Florence was a prolific writer, her many books especially her “Notes on Nursing” are still read and quoted today. The fundamentals of what she advocated are still practiced today. In 1868 Henry Parkes requested Florence to send some qualified nurses to Australia. Lucy Osburn came to Sydney with five trained “sisters” She set up the first nurse training school at Sydney Hospital. She faced unsurmountable problems with opposition from surgeons and even her fellow nurses. Back in the UK, Florence faced ill health and she learnt to use her profile to improve the conditions of her patients and nurses. She continued to lobby for improved conditions for the rest of her life. She died in her sleep in her room in London at the age of 90, in 1910. International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday on the 12th May every year.