Concept Development: Florence Nightingale -Its Con

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Florence Nightingale - Influence on Nursing Theory

1.AIM: This assignment gives an abridged account of Florence Nightingale’s life, her education, aspirations and career. It also discusses the development of nursing theory in general, and Florence Nightingale’s influence in later nursing theorists’ work.

Florence Nightingale’s philosophy regarding the environment was fundamental to her concept of nursing and health, which was demonstrated through her work on sanitary reform and hospital construction.


Florence Nightingale was born in 1820 to well-educated, affluent British parents. Her youthful upbringing brought her into aristocratic society, where she made life-long distinguished friends and acquaintances. These would prove pivotal in her work as the founder of modern nursing.

Schooled by her father in mathematics, languages, religion and philosophy (which were put to good use in forming her theories), the young Nightingale began her nursing training in Germany. After returning to England, she became Superintendent of the Hospital for Invalid Gentlewomen 1.

During the 1840’s, sanitary reform in the community became a big political issue, which Florence Nightingale zealously embraced. She utilised plans for eliminating sanitation problems on the army wards during her time in the Crimean War. Although medical care in the army was higher than in the community, conditions were still appalling with blocked latrines, overflowing cesspools and contaminated drinking water. The latter playing an important part in epidemic outbreaks of cholera.1,2.

The soldiers named her as ‘The Lady of the Lamp’ when she carried her lantern through the corridors at night.

In 1855, Florence Nightingale became very ill with ‘Crimean Fever ‘ and was not expected to survive. This disease is believed by some to be brucellosis melitensis. 3 Her symptoms subsided and she returned to England, after which, she founded nursing schools at St.Thomas Hospital and at King’s College Hospital.

Her achievements have included her many writings, such as ‘Notes on Hospitals’ and ‘Notes on the Sanitary State of the Army in India’. Florence Nightingale also compiled statistics and much evidence for the Royal Commission. Hospitals were set up world-wide financed by the Nightingale Fund.

Although bed-ridden for much of her later years, she worked prolifically into her eighties, gathering data and expounding her nursing theories. In 1910, Florence Nightingale died at the age of 90 years.

3. Development of Nursing Theories and Practices

Between 1858, when Florence Nightingale first wrote her ideas for the theory and practice of nursing, and the 1950’s, there was little change to the task orientated, authoritarian concept of nursing practice. The nursing theorists may have started to evolve in order to change this viewpoint. Notable protagonists include Henderson, Peplau, Abdellah and Orem.4 In addition, reactions to the medical paradigm which was well established and developed, may have prompted the change of nursing, from one of traditional symptom orientation to a nursing paradigm in it’s own right. (Figures 3.1 & 3.2 refer).


Nursing theories have gone through several changes and ideas that were rejected in one stage of development have been accepted in another. There has been a shift from the early rejection of nursing theories, through the positivistic, quantitative research of the sixties to the recent revival of Florence Nightingale’s concept of nursing of health and environment. Nursing research has shifted towards the phenomenological viewpoint (the meaning of experience and perceived reality) illustrated in Figure 3.3.


Nursing theories prove that nursing is a profession, not simply an occupation. Meleis describes these as being “a systematic, coherent body of knowledge with boundaries”. There are three types of nursing theories, according to Alligood...
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