During our month long celebration of Florence Nightingale’s 200th anniversary, we have looked back at the life of the woman, and seen how she emerged from a truly grim and challenging situation in the Crimean War with determination, commitment and a true vision for a field of healthcare that did not even exist at the time. We’ve also looked at the many ways her life and legacy still surround us today, from the common-sense hygienic practices and basics of patient care that we now all take for granted, to the myriad of statues, hospitals, schools and shooting stars that still bear her name.
She broke ground, challenged the status quo and campaigned tirelessly to earn respect and legitimacy for the field of nursing, which she held so dear. She isolated problems and issues and offered solutions. Today, as we face the unprecedented challenges and the uncertain future of a global pandemic, her courage, dedication and focus continue to provide the inspiration from which we all can draw strength.
Florence Nightingale was not one to sit idly by when faced with unacceptable conditions, difficult situations or serious challenges of any kind. She was analytical, logical and focused. She strongly believed that understanding data was an essential part of identifying problems, assessing priorities and improving patient outcomes. She once described statistics as “the most important science in the world,” and those words ring true today more than ever as we move toward new uncharted territory using scientific data as a guiding light.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic upended our lives, nurses were already facing more workplace hazards than ever before including exposure to dangerous pathogens, needle injuries, accidents and even workplace violence. Shortage of staffing in hospital settings can lead to longer working shifts, extended hours, burnout and fatigue. In combination, all of these things add up to a potentially overwhelming challenge for the nursing industry as a whole.
It is precisely at times like these, that we can look to Nightingale’s example, and remember that she too must have felt overwhelmed by a seemingly impossible situation. In the face of countless obstacles and challenges, she believed that the best approach was to start small and focus on that which was before her. She once said, “Never lose an opportunity of urging a practical beginning, however small, for it is wonderful how often in such matters the mustard-seed germinates and roots itself.”
To those unfamiliar, the story of Florence Nightingale might seem to be a thing of the past, an interesting story in the history of nursing that now rests comfortably in the annals of time, quietly gathering dust and fading from memory. Nothing could be farther from the truth. She is as alive today as she ever was and will live on into the future in the hearts of millions who have dedicated their life’s work to caring for others and advancing the noble profession of nursing. Her courage and determination saw her through the most difficult times, and we too shall rise to the occasion.
As for the daily chaos of the circus that surrounds us, Florence was aware of that too. “The greatest heroes,” she said, “are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.”