National Nurses Week: Continuing the Legacy of Florence Nightingale

May 12, 2011, 11:21 AM, Posted by

By Susan Hassmiller, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N.

Director of the Initiative on the Future of Nursing and RWJF Senior Adviser for Nursing


Last summer, I fulfilled a lifelong dream in journeying to London and Turkey to follow in Florence Nightingale’s footsteps. I wanted to learn how her groundbreaking efforts to create modern nursing and make systematic changes in sanitation laws, military hospital design, the field of statistics, and of course, nursing, impacted nursing today.

What I discovered is that Florence’s work is relevant to all of us, particularly as our generation works to remake our health care system to ensure that all Americans receive integrated, equitable and cost-effective services through the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action. This multi-year initiative seeks to advance comprehensive change for patients and the country by fully utilizing the expertise and experience of all nurses.

Among other things, this Campaign is working to improve nursing education and training, promote nursing leadership, enable all nurses to practice to the full extent of their education and training and improve data collection – all areas that Florence impacted in her day.

As we celebrate Florence Nightingale’s birthday May 12 and National Nurses Week, let’s continue her legacy.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Follow your passion. Florence was passionate about transforming patient care by improving sanitation, hospital conditions and focusing on holistic health. She was also passionate about conveying proper training techniques and policies so that nurses delivered the best care possible to patients. She did not tire until she made lasting change. Similarly, you should focus on the area of the Campaign for Action that you’re most passionate about and get involved.

2. Collect data. Florence collected and used data to help her change massive military and health systems. It’s not enough to have passion – you must use evidence to make improvements, create change and offer solutions. Florence conducted research and kept detailed statistics on who was getting sick and why. She learned that infectious disease caused almost all Crimean War soldier deaths; few died from battle wounds. Immerse yourself in the evidence-based research surrounding your passion.

3. Become an expert and make your contributions known. Speaking and writing on your passion and supporting your views with evidence-based research are necessary to improve the profession and patient care. Florence frequently expressed her views in the influential London Times and met with parliamentary officials and other leaders about the poor conditions for soldiers fighting the Crimean War. She also published prolifically, in the form of papers, brochures, official reports and books. She continually contributed her knowledge as a way to improve the nursing profession and the health care system in general. You also need to speak to your colleagues about your passion and publish op-eds in your local papers about why your passion is important.

4. Network. Florence Nightingale used royalty, military leaders, government officials and business men to create change. You need to reach out to other health professionals, academia, philanthropy, the business community, consumers and other health care stakeholders in your community to get them involved in the Campaign for Action so they can become the important change makers that we need.

Thank you for everything you do already to improve patient care. On behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I wish you a happy National Nurses Week.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.