If there is one nurse trailblazer, whose name is notable among regular citizens and not just those in healthcare, is Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), “the Lady with the Lamp”. In fact, the WHO ordained that 2020 will be celebrated as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife – which happens to be the 200th anniversary of Nightingale’s birth. Born in Italy, raised by British parents and her opulent up-keeping meant that she would be married at a young age and become a lady of stature, but Nightingale had a different mental impression. She was keen towards aiding the unwell and needy in the villages surrounding her family’s sizeable territory and as soon as she turned 16, she told her parents that nursing was her calling from God. Later, she repudiated a marriage proposal and set her sights on nursing school. The year was 1844 when Nightingale put her name down in a German nursing school, despite her parents’ objections and then returned to London after taking extra training from Paris and France to begin her career at a hospital for gentlewomen. It was the time of the cholera outbreak and Nightingale exerted herself to meliorate hygiene practices, which significantly curtailed the death rate. When the Crimean War broke out in late 1853, Britain sent thousands of soldiers to the Black Sea. Supplies were low and military hospitals there became overrun with tens of thousands of soldiers. Subsequently, in 1854, the Secretary of War, who had learned of Nightingale’s successes in her London hospital, asked her to arrange a unit of nurses and bring them to care for the slain comrades in the Crimea. When she and her recruited nurses reached Constantinople, they were petrified by the situation—contaminated water in the hospital, a lack of even basic supplies, and most soldiers dying from infectious diseases like cholera and typhoid. Nightingale was tireless in her efforts to improve the hospital’s conditions. She also engaged well patients to help clean the hospital thoroughly and spent her days and nights tending to the soldiers. She used to carry a lamp while making her rounds, which led her to earn the name, “the Lady with the Lamp.” When the war terminated and Nightingale came back to England in 1856, she has lauded a hero and presented with numerous accolades, including a reward of $250,000 from the government of Britain. She then utilized her funds for healthcare cause and laid the foundation of St. Thomas’ Hospital and its Nightingale Training School for Nurses.
If there was one individual in the history of nursing who can be considered a pioneer of this very effort of making advancements in healthcare, it is Dorothea Lynde Dix (1802-1887). After a volatile childhood, Dix locomoted to Boston to stay with her grandmother, who fostered her to pursue her passion for education. The ambitious young girl set-up several educational institutions in Boston as well as Worcester, but her poor health took her away from this effort and she instead began writing. She later published several textbooks, including conversations on common things, which got printed in 1824. Later in the year 1841, she decided to edify the women prisoners at the East Cambridge Jail where she was appalled to see how prisoners were treated. Dix started seeking to influence the local government to provide heat in the cells housing the mentally ill prisoners and make several other improvements. She beheld the situations of other prisons around Massachusetts and eventually presented her proposals to the state legislature. Her journey didn’t only confine to the boundaries of Massachusetts but she also travelled to the United States and propagandized to establish mental institutions for disabled people. She appealed to Congress to concede a land of 12 million acres as a public endowment for the mental as well as for the blinds and deaf. When President Franklin Pierce rejected the proposal, she went to Europe to recommend reforms in many other countries. Meanwhile, during the Civil War that started in the year 1862, Dix conducted herself to help equip the Union Army hospitals to look after the large staff of nurses that was needed during the time of war. She aided in establishing the field hospitals and infirmaries and her also hand-picked other nurses. Dix was entitled as superintendent of women nurses—and became the first woman to perform welfare duties at a high scale. She was an abrasive personality and came to blow with many military officials and was eventually forced out of her position as superintendent of women nurses. Subsequent to the war, she continued working on behalf of the mentally ill, travelling the country and the world to encourage the redesign and reform of hospitals to ensure they met the principles she upheld. She fell ill with malaria in 1870 and eventually took up residence in a hospital that had been established in her honour in New Jersey and died there in 1887. She was not even a nurse, yet she had a profuse influence on the field of nursing and the entire healthcare industry. Like many who are drawn to patient care, she was someone who cared for others and wanted to fight for those who were unable to fight for themselves. She was inspired to help people from backgrounds that were vastly different than her own.
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