A pandemic is a great time to celebrate Florence Nightingale's tenacity, 200 years later

Today marks 200 years since the birth of Florence Nightingale, the woman who revolutionised the nursing profession.

The cliche has Nightingale as the “lady with the lamp”, depicted as a sweet and demure image of feminine care.

But, in fact, Nightingale had a fierce intellect, passion for social reform and a creative ability to simply get stuff done. As a 21-year-old medical science student living in 2020, I am grateful for her example.

Florence Nightingale was a British nurse in the 19th century, known for caring for soldiers, lamp in hand, during the Crimean War.

Over the course of her life, Nightingale dramatically improved sanitisation in hospitals, introduced an evidence-based approach to healthcare and provided an early example of a modern nurse.

Born to an upper-class family in 1820, Nightingale was expected to live a typical, domesticated life of a 19th century woman. However, after what she described as a call from God, Nightingale rejected these expectations and decided to pursue a career in nursing.

Nightingale had a fierce intellect, passion for social reform and a creative ability to simply get stuff done.

After studying abroad in Germany, Nightingale was called to supervise a group of 38 nurses working in military hospitals during the Crimean war in Scutari, Turkey. Here, she pushed to improve sanitisation (by insisting that the removal of a dead horse from the hospital’s water supply was a necessity), reorganised the hospital layout and enforced the importance of patient observation. CPX’s Natasha Moore points out that these efforts led to mortality rates dropping from 42 per cent to 2 per cent.

While she was ill for much of her post-war life, Nightingale devoted her days in bed to collecting data, writing reports and sending letters to government officials. Based on her conviction that improved sanitisation led to a decrease in mortality rate, she provoked investigative commissions into healthcare and even prompted the financing of a sewerage system in London. In 1858, she was selected as the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society.

In honour of Nightingale’s life, the World Health Organisation has named 2020 the first International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. In addition, today is International Nurses’ Day.

It seems a particularly fitting time, during this pandemic year, to remember the courage and achievements of both Nightingale and her modern-day counterparts, who carry on her baton of hard work, personal sacrifice and exceptional care.