People We Like: Florence Nightingale

People we Like: Florence Nightingale

We’ve been thinking of our healthcare professionals out there serving on the front lines of this pandemic and we’re thankful for their courage. We continue to coordinate efforts to get supplies to Boston Medical Center, so please let us know if you would like to donate PPE. We’re also reading and learning a lot during this time, and one of the people we’re focusing on is Florence Nightingale.

Here’s why we like her – she bucked the status quo by:

  • Going to school;
  • Becoming a nurse (which, at the time, was not a sought-after profession); and
  • Battling the British patriarchy to implement massive medical reform

Known as the founder of modern nursing, she was born in 1820 in Florence, Italy, to a wealthy English family. She spoke four languages, excelled in math, and was encouraged by her parents to use those skills to get married and start a family. She resisted, instead feeling a call from God to study nursing. At the time, nursing wasn’t the established profession it is today – it was looked down upon, almost as a last resort. (You must remember, women of status got married while women that were lacking went to work. Pre-modern medicine was a messy job, often handled by nuns.)

At the age of 30, Nightingale finally convinced her parents to let her follow her preferred career path. She studied in Germany for approximately four months. Upon returning to England, she was hired at the Hospital for Distressed Gentlewomen. After proving herself, she was selected to be the Head Nurse for the British in the Crimean War. She traveled to Scutari, (near modern day Istanbul), and found the hospital in extreme disrepair.

I’ll spare you the details, but it was built on top of an overflowing sewer. (Okay, I won’t spare you all the details: the patients went days without having their bandages changed, rodents openly roamed the halls, and men had to walk through ankle-deep sewage to get to the restrooms.) Nightingale aptly dubbed this hospital, “The Kingdom of Hell”.

She is most famously remembered as “The Lady with the Lamp” – yes, in the night, she went from bed to bed checking on patients. Beyond her bedside manner, she had a giant impact structurally: she fought with England for a cleaner environment, better facilities, and frequent bathing for patients.

Back in the England after the war, Nightingale used her aptitude for statistics to show how her reforms were preventing the spread of disease in hospitals. After battling general disbelief from superiors, she finally won people to her cause. The next war hospital that opened with her reforms had a 90% drop in death by disease.

She went on to found St. Thomas’s Hospital in London. It was secular, based in science, and treated nursing as a reputable vocation. Her impact on nursing and healthcare as a whole changed the system forever.

If you are interested in a deeper dive, here’s a YouTube video and a podcast that would be worth your while.

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