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Florence Nightingale and International Nurses Day

The 12th May, each year, is celebrated as International Nurses Day. This day allows nurses to celebrate their profession and to show the world that nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system. Many people wonder why International Nurses Day is celebrated on 12th May. The reason is simple: it is the birthday of the great Florence Nightingale, who was the founder of modern nursing, and who was responsible for establishing nursing as a profession.

Florence Nightingale was born on the 12th May, 1820, into a rich, upper-class British family. Her father William Edward Nightingale named her Florence after the city she was born in: Florence, in Italy. Nightingale was fortunate in that her father believed women should be educated, contrary to social convention during the Victorian era, and he personally taught her Italian, Latin, Greek, philosophy, history, writing, and mathematics.

She took up nursing, against her family’s (mother’s and sister’s) wishes. She learned basic nursing skills at Germany, in July 1850, where she received training at The Institution of Protestant Deaconesses, at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein.

Florence Nightingale achieved national fame during the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) when she worked very hard to provide the best nursing care to the British soldiers. During the Crimean War she was popularly known as “The Lady with the Lamp”, after her habit of making rounds at night. This fame and popularity allowed her to set up a fund, the Nightingale Fund, in 1855 for the training of nurses.

Florence Nightingale used the fund to set up the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas’ Hospital on 9th July 1860, the first secular nursing school. The first trained Nightingale nurses began work in 1855. The school still runs, as the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, and is part of King’s College London. She also took an initiative in training midwives.

In 1859, Florence Nightingale wrote Notes on Nursing: What it is and what it is not, now considered a classic introduction to nursing, to serve as a key component of the curriculum at the Nightingale School and other nursing schools. The book sold well among the general public too. She assisted in setting up nursing schools in the USA, Australia, and Japan, through the alumni of the Nightingale School, and thereby achieved international recognition. She also carried out pioneering work in hospital planning; knowledge that quickly spread all around the world.

Despite suffering from ill-health in her later years, she was phenomenally productive, generating a large corpus of written work. In 1907, she became the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit, an exclusive award from the British monarch, for her achievements. She died on 13th August, 1910, at the age of ninety. As per her wishes, her family declined the offer of a burial in Westminster Abbey, and she is buried in the graveyard at St. Margaret Church in East Wellow, Hampshire, England.

Her life and her achievements ensure that Florence Nightingale remains the biggest role model for nurses, throughout the world.


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