Episode 14. Florence Nightingale: THE nurse (& statistician & researcher & advocate &…)

From the fall of nursing in the 1800s (reference episode 1 for more info!!) to now, the profession has done a full 180. Nurses today are some of the most respected and valued healthcare workers in the field. This shift in the profession wasn’t random or a chance of luck. It was because of Florence Nightingale, the Mother of Nursing. In this episode you will learn about an incredible woman who played a role in shaping what it means to be a nurse, public health policy development, bringing awareness to medical research, and strategies to effectively practice medicine. In a time where medicine was expanding and population demand for healthcare was growing, Florence implemented changes and developed theories in medicine that benefit us to this day. Join in the conversation to learn about how this caring, analytical, and smart nurse used her platform to create substantial change in the care of patients from the 1800s to today.

Feminist Corner:

I found it so interesting that Florence had such a large role in quality improvement in hospitals. Especially because that is something we talk a ton about at my medical school. In our first day of anatomy lab, we had a lecture on the importance of quality improvement in hospitals and how anatomy lab hands offs was our first experience in caring for a patient and ensuring accurate and complete transfer of care. So healthcare improvement is huge today, and Florence saw this from the beginning. So I want to hear your opinion on one, healthcare improvement and medical students role in it? And two, why do you think it took this nurse to start this change? 

What about Florence do you think spoke to women? Why was she the icon for change in nursing?

Listen to the episode, discuss these questions with friends and family, let us know what you think!

Show Notes:

This episode is a continuation of our very first episode, Ancient Origins of Nursing: The Rise & Fall. The episode is not essential to this story line but it does provide some useful information!

Today we are talking about the mother of nursing: Florence Nightingale! But first let’s set the scene for what the 1800s was like for a new nurse such as Florence.

  • Medicine had taken off but nursing as a profession had not fared as well. The profession was seen as undesirable and low. 
  • Hospitals were extremely dirty and unkept. There were dirty linens, crowded beds, bugs on the floors. Patients were dying faster from cholera than from battle wounds in the army hospitals. 

Who was Florence Nightingale:

  • Born in Florence, Italy in 1820 to a rich English family. 
  • Florence’s family wanted her to marry young, but she felt a calling for service work. 
  • Florence trained as a nurse in Germany, then Paris, then moved back to London where she worked in a nursing home. In the nursing home she began her career in healthcare improvement and was soon promoted. 

Florence was called to work as a nurse in the Crimean War: 

  • Florence and 38 other nurses went to Constantinople, Turkey to work in a war hospital where soldiers were dying at an alarming rate.
  • Florence and the other nurses worked to clean up the hospital, set public health standards in place, and buy new materials. 
  • Death rates dropped significantly. 

After the war, Florence started down two career paths:

  • The first as a pioneer in nursing. Florence started the first nursing school in London, wrote a book on the dos and don’ts of nursing, and how nurses can build a healing environment for patients. Florence’s improvements to the nursing field led to women flocking to the profession. Nursing was soon lifted to one of the most respected professions of today.  
  • Florence also paved her way as a statistician and quality improvement activist. She studied her success in the war hospital and published her work, leading to advancements in hospital design and public health. Florence advocated for evidence-based medicine to decrease medical errors and advance patient treatment plans. 

At the end of her life:

  • Florence fell ill with Crimson Fever. 
  • From her deathbed she continued to publish studies on nursing, medical stats, and healthcare delivery improvement. 
  • She was awarded multiple honors and was the first female member of the royal statistical society. She is now viewed as the mother of nursing and the nurses pledge was written in her honor.


Aravind, M., & Chung, K. C. (2010). Evidence-Based Medicine and Hospital Reform: Tracing Origins Back to Florence Nightingale. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 125(1), 403-409. doi:10.1097/prs.0b013e3181c2bb89

Communications, V. (1970, November 03). Florence Nightingale Pledge. Retrieved from https://nursing.vanderbilt.edu/news/florence-nightingale-pledge/

Fee, E., & Garofalo, M. E. (2010). Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War. American Journal of Public Health, 100(9), 1591-1591. doi:10.2105/ajph.2009.188607

Maranzani, B. (2020, March 25). How Florence Nightingale’s Hygiene Crusade Saved Millions. Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/news/florence-nightingale-hygiene-handwashing

NOTES ON NURSING. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/nightingale/nursing/nursing.html

Why Florence Nightingale’s Improvement Lessons Still Matter Today. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ihi.org/communities/blogs/why-florence-nightingales-improvement-lessons-still-matter-today#:~:text=She developed and implemented action,death rate by two-thirds

Like the episode? Send us your thoughts and questions!

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