Florence Nightingale

Birthday Tribute on May 12, to TheLady with the Lamp(1820-1910)

By Prof. (Dr) Surjit Singh Bhatti (Retd.)

Head, Department of Physics & Dean, Applied  Sciences

Guru Nanak Dev University. Amritsar

Born in a rich family in Florence (Italy), Nightingale spent most of her life in England. As a pioneering and dedicated nurse, she became the pride of  the nursing profession throughout the world. She is remembered today as the Founder of Modern Nursing and Hospital Epidemiology. She was a strong advocate of Health-care Reform, which focused on how to properly run (both military and civilian) hospitals. Nightingale also served as an authority on public sanitation issues in India. She gained fame also in maintaining Health Statistics, unknown at that time.

A Pioneering and Dedicated Nurse

She was a philanthropist by nature and looking after the ill became the divine purpose of her life. Her parents were not pleased when she enrolled as a nursing student in 1850 in Germany. She started as a nurse in a hospital for ailing governesses in England. There her performance was so good that she was promoted to Superintendent. Soon she began to grapple with the then prevailing cholera outbreak and unsanitary conditions in the hospital. Her work led to substantially lowering death rate at the hospital and she became widely known and admired  for her devotion  and ability.

Her outstanding Work during Crimean War

In October 1853, the Crimean War broke out. British and French forces were at war against Russia. The injured British soldiers were feeling neglected due to insufficient medical attention and poor unsanitary conditions in their hospitals. In1854, Nightingale was asked to organize their military hospitals in Crimea. In the British base hospital, the most basic supplies were becoming scarce as the number of wounded increased and even water was rationed. More soldiers were dying from infectious diseases than from battle injuries. Nightingale got cleaned the inside of the hospital from floor to ceiling using disinfectants, sanitizing the wards, and frequently bathing and changing the clothing of the patients. She spent all her time caring for the soldiers with compassion. Her work reduced the hospital’s death rate from 32% to 2% in six months.

Honors and Awards

Queen Victoria honored Nightingale with a brooch (known as “Nightingale Jewel”) and gave her a prize of $250,000. She used the money in 1860 to establish St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. Soon Nursing became an honorable vocation. Nightingale wrote Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army, which led to  the establishment of a Royal Commission for the Health of the Army. She was given the Order of Merit by King Edward in 1907 and the Freedom of the City of London, becoming the first woman to receive the honor.  The Royal Statistical Society appreciated her work in health statistics by electing her its (first woman) member. American Statistical Association made her an Honorary Member.

Nightingale contracted a bacterial infection in her later life and was mostly bedridden in old age. However, she continued her work from her bed. She died on August 13, 1910, in London. In her memory, The Florence Nightingale Museum, was set up at the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in England.

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