Florence Nightingale – a Voice That Lead Nursing to a World of Health

Each year, on May 12, International Nurses Day is celebrated. This day is chosen as it is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.

Florence Nightingale was a trailblazing figure in nursing. Born in Florence, Italy, she was part of an affluent British clan that belonged to elite circles. Despite her prominent standing, Florence was reportedly awkward in social situations and instead of being a socialite, she turned to the world of nursing. She was known for her night rounds to aid the wounded, establishing her image as the ‘Lady with the Lamp’.

Early life

From a young age, Florence was active in philanthropy. Her father, William Edward Nightingale, was a wealthy landowner and Florence would often be seen ministering to the ill and poor people in the village neighbouring her family’s estate. Florence later stated that her divine purpose in life was to care for others.

When Florence told her parents she was going to be a nurse her parents forbade her to pursue such lowly menial labour. They instead arranged a proposal from a “suitable” gentleman, Richard Monckton Milnes. Florence refused the proposal and in 1850, Florence enrolled as a nursing student at the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses in Kaiserwerth, Germany, and left her old life behind. When she returned to London she took a nursing job at Harley Street Hospital and was quickly promoted to superintendent in light of her impressive performance.

Crimean war

In October 1853, the Crimean War broke out. Thousands of British soldiers were sent to the Black Sea and by 1854 there were more than 18,000 soldiers in military hospitals. There were no female nurses stationed at hospitals in the Crimea and so Florence organised a team of three dozen nurses to set sail.

The team had been warned of the horrid conditions they would find, but nothing could have prepared them for what they saw when they arrived at Scutari, the British base hospital in Constantinople. The hospital sat on a large cesspool, which contaminated the water and building. Patients lay on stretchers in their own excrement as rodents scurried around them.

The no-nonsense Nightingale quickly set to work and the team procured hundreds of scrub brushes and cleaned the hospital from floor to ceiling. Nightingale spent every waking minute caring for the soldiers and would be seen moving through the dark hallways at night checking on the soldiers, her lamp in hand. This patient assessment is today known as ‘making the rounds’.

Together with her team of helpers, Florence reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds. This highlighted the need for sanitary conditions, educating patients so they could care for themselves, and assessing patients’ conditions around the clock.

Nightingale Training School

In 1860, back in London, Florence established the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’ Hospital. It was the first secular nursing school in the world and is now part of King’s College London. She also campaigned and raised funds for the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital and wrote Notes on Nursing (1859), a book that served as the cornerstone of the curriculum at the Nightingale Training School. The book was the first of its kind to ever be written.

Honouring Florence Nightingale

Prior to Florence Nightingale, nursing was thought of as a lowly profession, much like that of a servant. Her fight for sanitary conditions, good nutrition, round-the-clock care and patient education set the foundation for modern day nursing and set an example of compassion, commitment to patient care, and diligent and thoughtful hospital administration.

Florence Nightingale is today remembered as one of the world’s greatest treasures – a voice that lead nursing to the world of health.


This year’s International Nurses Day theme is Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Nursing the World to Health. This theme demonstrates how nurses are central to addressing a wide range of health challenges.

A big thank you to all nurses around the world!

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