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Florence Nightingale – a woman who reshaped the healthcare system

Julia Broecker
08 May 2024
Reading Time: 6 min.
The number one priority in healthcare is the patient’s well-being. As easy as that is said, how can the best treatment be guaranteed? A combination of structured organization, focused care and individual attention is required to achieve patient-centered action. It is not always easy to fulfill these requirements. Florence Nightingale is a key figure in the history of healthcare and paved the way for the modern system that we know today.
Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale, Lady with the lamp

Florence Nightingale was born in Florence on May 12, 1820, as the daughter of wealthy parents and died in London on August 13, 1910. She is considered the founder of modern healthcare and established the first school for future nurses, based on scientific evidence, which led to several reforms in healthcare.

She was also a pioneer concerning statistical data acquisition and with her mathematical skills, she enhanced the system. Florence Nightingale was the first woman to ever receive the British Order of Merit. The International Nurses Day is celebrated on May 12 each year to commemorate her birthday.

Key moments in Florence Nightingale’s biography

The life of Florence Nightingale was marked by decisive events. She received high education in her youth, which was rare for women of the Victorian Age. Her father introduced her to modern and old languages as well as philosophy, so Nightingale grew up to become a reflected and educated woman. At the age of 16, she is said to have had visions from God with the call to reduce human suffering on earth. She interpreted them as a request to get into healthcare. The problem remaining: The profession of nurse was not highly regarded in society. In addition, it was not a generally accepted position for a woman.

The beginning of her career

After lots of begging, her father finally agreed to Nightingale’s wishes of pursuing a career in healthcare. In 1851, she started her training at a Protestant facility in Kaiserswerth, Germany. After her return to England two years later, Florence Nightingale became the leader of a London hospital and considerably improved the care and administration situation there.

Care with structure

Nightingale’s career path was especially shaped by her involvement during the Crimean War (1853-1856), where she managed to establish a structured care system for the wounded soldiers under the most chaotic circumstances – a trailblazer for modern medication management. After she had met Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale initiated a variety of reformatory changes in the social and healthcare system in England from 1865 on. Numerous improvements in the healthcare structure can be attributed to this time and her influence.

Educational reform

In 1859 and 1860, Florence Nightingale published her most recognized work about healthcare, among it “Notes on Hospital” and “Notes on Nursing”. In 1860, she opened her School of Nursing, financed by the Nightingale fund. For the first time, women could access an educational institution to be introduced to the profession of nurse with a structured approach.

Florence Nightingale and her biography impressively illustrate how changes can bring about substantial improvement.

The importance of Florence Nightingale in the history of healthcare

In the Victorian Age, women were not supposed to work outside from their homes. A woman in healthcare was a taboo topic. Due to the unpopularity of the profession, chances were low for women – they remained dependent on their family or husband.

Thanks to the establishment of her Nursing school, women gained access to higher education. Because of Florence Nightingale, the image of nurses rapidly improved and women could participate more actively in society. Her concept was adopted all around the globe, women could access secondary education and corresponding professions.

Nightingale’s affinity for data and statistics still shows in today’s models of documentation of

  • Mortality rate
  • Efficiency
  • Bottlenecks
  • Diseases


Her ways of displaying data in clear diagrams, such as Coxcomb, still contribute to a distinct way of collecting and analyzing data.

Coxcomb Diagram
The coxcmb diagram was developed by Florence Nightingale with the help of William Farr. It illustrates the amount of deaths during the Crimean War as a result of infections. Those deaths could have been avoided.

Her more than 200 publications were written in easy and comprehensible language and therefore accessible for a broad audience. Even non-experts could understand and apply essential basics for patient care.

Nightingale found it very important to write down and share her knowledge, even when she was confined to her bed due to a chronic disease and her constantly deteriorating health condition.

Patient-centered care, structured planning and acting towards a goal remain valid principles for today’s healthcare – we owe them all to Florence Nightingale.

Florence Nightingale’s role during the Crimean War: focus on her work

When war breaks out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in 1853, the peninsula Crim is the center of attention. England supports the Ottoman army as an allied party. Miserable conditions prevail in the English hospital camps:

  • There is no systematic treatment
  • Wounded soldiers are treated insufficiently
  • Basic material is missing


When rumors about the seriousness of the situation surface, the people in England are shocked. Demands for immediate improvement are voiced. The secretary of war turns to the experienced nurse Florence Nightingale and asks for her help. Interestingly, Florence sends a letter to his wife at the same time, offering help from her own initiative.

Arrival in the war zone

On short notice, Florence Nightingale travels to the crisis area with 38 fellow nurses. They are met with rejection: officers deny them access to the wounded and don’t accept their help. Just as the military hospital is completely overcrowded, they are allowed to take action. Their main tasks consist of procuring and cleaning required material as well as satisfying the soldiers’ basic human needs. They distribute food and provide them with clean clothes. Also, they offer psychological support.

Nightingale identifies the prerequisites that need to be given to promote quick recovery. She keeps a strict protocol about deaths, diseases etc. She uses her findings to draw conclusions for treatment methodology. The mortality rate is dropping drastically after her arrival.

Lady with the Lamp

Florence Nightingale is also called “Lady with the Lamp” because of her heroic implication in the war. During her countless night shifts, she went from bed to bed to give comfort and dedicated herself to caring for the wounded English soldiers. She earned the highest respect and appreciation not only on site, but equivalently back home in England.

International Nurses Day: a tribute to Florence Nightingale

Every year on May 12, the birthday of the influential nurse is celebrated globally: it’s the International Nurses Day. Its aim is to commemorate her revolutionary practices and methods as well as highlighting the importance of the profession. Then and now, healthcare professionals face challenges that demand adaptive solutions. The responsibility they carry remains untouched. Each process must benefit the patient in the end.

Conclusion: Without Florence Nightingale, healthcare wouldn’t be where it is today

Florence Nightingale cleared the path for a progressive development of the healthcare system. Thanks to her, improvements could be brought about step by step, ultimately contributing to the patient’s well-being. Nightingale’s experience points out the importance of constantly improving internal and external processes.

In our days, the use of automated solutions is a convenient opportunity to reach this goal. In the end, it’s the patients who count the most – and they were also Florence Nightingale’s top priority.

About the author

Julia Bröcker who senses linguistic subtleties by intuition and enriches our internal and external communications.

More about Julia Broecker
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