Florence Nightingale and her contribution to nursing

Topics: Florence Nightingale, Nursing, Crimean War Pages: 6 (2181 words) Published: February 7, 2014
 What was the short-term significance of Florence Nightingale in bringing about change in nursing practice in the 1860s.

In the Dickens book “Martin Chuzzlewit” the character Mrs Gamp a nurse, was dirty, fat, and old and also a drunk, which was like most nurses of those days before Nightingale. One can say that because of this, nursing was not seen as a highly regarded profession. Source A supports the view of Mrs Gamp being a true portrayal of nurses in the 1800s. It is an article from the Telegraph by Robbie Collin, he is writing about the character Mrs Gamp and he says “Dickens wrote that Mrs Gamp was, ‘four-and-twenty years ago, a fair representation of the hired attendant on the poor in sickness,’ and she was so popular with Victorian readers that it took Florence Nightingale’s efforts in the Crimea to steer the public perception of nurses away from the Gamp stereotype”. Dickens published this book in parts between 1843-1844 and thought of the character Mrs Gamp as ‘highly realistic’ and used the description of a nurse from his friend, Angela Burdett-Coutts1, when creating Mrs Gamp’s characteristics. This gives an insight as to what nurses were like pre Florence Nightingale and how she made a drastic change to the perception and status of nurses.

In the early 1800s most hospitals were dirty, unsanitary and poorly planned buildings. Nurses were usually uneducated in medicine, and did not have much experience in the field2. They were almost always uncouth and ignorant, as well as being drunks and prone to promiscuity. Florence was told by the head nurse in a London hospital that she “had never known a nurse who was not drunken” and that most of the nurses engaged in “immoral conduct” with the patients in the wards3. They were either servants from working class backgrounds or predominantly Catholic nuns. People didn’t go to hospitals, unless they were poor, wealthier people had nurses in the home, and in the main they were seen as servants. It was possible for the wealthy to call for a doctor to come to their house as doctors were employed privately. There was a common idea that it was actually dangerous to go to hospital. Florence Nightingale states, “It may seem a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a Hospital that it should do the sick no harm.” The ‘Augustinian Sisters were the only model for public nursing until the 1800s.’4 When proper training for nurses became available during the late 1700s to early 1800s at the Deaconess Institute at Kaiserworth in Germany (1836) and following that other institutes opened around Europe. Yet the majority of nurses in England were still poorly educated in medicine as most of them didn’t go to these institutes during the early 1800s. The reasons could have been that they could not afford to travel to get the education needed or it was thought unnecessary. Many nurses at the time were illiterate. It is not certain as very little of nurse’s history is known. Florence Nightingale changed this by showing that education was crucial. Source B is a snippet from a letter where Florence Nightingale is giving advice to her students. She states “But what does honour lie in? In working hard during your training to learn and to do all things perfectly”. This shows dedication and encouraging the other nurses to be dedicated and succeed and that she knows nurses need formal training and qualifications if they are to get a job required of them.

In hospitals in England or war hospitals, there was generally no hand washing, the equipment was not cleaned between patients and patients were not bathed regularly or properly5. In these hospitals soldiers died of infections caught there rather than dying on the battlefield. A clear example of this was at Scutari during the Crimean war, where Florence became notorious for her nursing. 4,077 soldiers died during her first winter before improvements were made. She then reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% by making...
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