How to Be Like Florence Nightingale
- Decide how you will impact the world
Nightingale was born into wealth and the Victorian role of a society woman. She didn’t need to work and didn’t need to accomplish anything by the norms of that society. However, she demanded more of herself. “I see so many of my kind who have gone mad for want of something to do,” she wrote.
- Follow your heart and religious faith
When Nightingale was seventeen, she felt a divine inspiration. “God spoke to me . . . and called me to His service,” she said. She listened and then moved into action.
- Ignore society’s stereotypes
In Nightingale’s time, nursing was considered a disreputable occupation performed by women who alcoholics and prostitutes. That didn’t stop Nightingale from pursuing her career in health care and, in process, helping to legitimize the nursing profession.
- Stand up for yourself
Sometimes you have to stand up to those you love most in order to turn your dreams into realities. Nightingale’s parents were strongly opposed to her pursuit of a nursing career. It would have been easy to buckle under that kind of pressure, or to substitute their judgment for hers, but Nightingale didn’t allow that to happen. She took the initiative and studied nursing on her own, eventually convincing her family that she was doing the right thing.
- Be courageous
Nightingale risked her life by going into a war zone and exposing herself to disease on a mass scale, but her focus was always on her patients. Her courage had its roots in her commitment to her cause. Because she was so committed, the cause was more important than the risks involved. On the eve of her departure for the Crimea, her sister Parthe wrote that Nightingale was “as calm and composed as if she was going for a walk.”
- When one road is blocked, take another
When those in authority try to block your path, seek an alternative. Upon arriving at Barrack Hospital, Nightingale met opposition from army doctors who resented her presence. She made progress in the areas of cleanliness and food preparation, and in time won the respect of the soldiers and eventually the doctors.
- Learn to write well
Nightingale, like Clara Barton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa, depended on letter writing to advance her cause. During her time in the Crimea, from November 1854 to July 1856, she wrote about 300 detailed letters, many of them to government officials, such as Sidney Herbert. Nightingale’s letters on reforms, packed with facts and statistical information to support her points, were used by Sidney Herbert and other cabinet officials to make “important changes in the British Army organization during the course of the Crimean War.”
- Move into action
Nightingale said, “Words ought all to be distilled into actions and into actions which bring results.” Nightingale always followed that path.
- Pay attention to details
Throughout her career, Nightingale maintained records and relied on statistical information to make the best decisions as a hospital administrator, and later as a head nurse during the Crimean War.
- Don’t be lured by materialism
There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of wealth, but don’t love things more than you love people. That’s the Florence Nightingale way.
- Be honest about your accomplishments
After returning from the Crimea, Nightingale became a media celebrity and was praised in poems, songs, portraits and figurines. She could have easily brushed aside the failures of the Crimea, but she didn’t. Instead, she honored the dead by highlighting the medical failures, and used that as the starting point for medical reforms in the British Army. “[Nightingale] used the truth to push Victorian England into a burst of social progress that may justify a claim that the pioneering National Health Service was born on the floor of the Scutari Barrack Hospital,” Huge Small wrote. Nightingale said: “I stand at the altar of the murdered men, and, while I live, I fight their cause.”
- Avoid false praise
Regarding the praise she received for her nursing efforts, Nightingale wrote in 1888: “I often think, or rather do not like to think . . . how all the people who were with me in the Crimea must feel how unjust it is that all the ‘Testimonial’ went to me.”
- Remember that all progress, however small, is valuab1e
As many as 14,000 British soldiers died needlessly from disease during the Crimean War. Out of that catastrophe, however, came the reforms that led to improved care for the war wounded and sick. “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,” Nightingale said.
- Be a hands-on person
To assess the needs of patients at Barrack Hospital, Nightingale, after working hard all day, personally made her rounds at night in the massive structure to talk with the soldiers. When Nightingale opened the Nightingale Training School for Nurses, she personally selected the superintendent and interviewed the prospective students. In order to help change the image of nurses, Nightingale wanted to make certain her students were of the highest moral character.
- Don’t rest on your laurels
After the Crimean War, Nightingale could have stopped working because her place in history was assured. However, like so many women of influence, she looked for new challenges and ways to be useful. As she got older, she was still able to accomplish some of her most important work. Through letters and contacts, Nightingale helped introduce health reforms in India.
- Defend those who can’t defend themselves
“The soldiers were victims; her deepest instinct was to be the defender of victims,” Woodham-Smith wrote.
Used with permission from Women of Influence by Pat & Ruth Williams with Michael Mink (Health Communications, Inc., 2003).