Nightingale lessons still relevant today

Good for you – Dr. Diane Duff RN PhD Minden

In 2010, I travelled to Istanbul to attend a health conference. My wife wanted to sail on the Bosphorus, and visit the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia Museum, and the Grand Bazaar.

I wanted to visit the Florence Nightingale Museum in the Selimye Barracks. Unfortunately, the museum is not easy to visit and our trip was too short to complete the formal requests. We stayed at a great little hotel in the heart of the Sultanahmet. We loved Istanbul and I vowed to return to visit the museum.

Fast forward 10 years to 2020. We decided to vacation in Turkey this Fall, stay with a former colleague who is teaching in Istanbul, and finally visit the museum.


The World Health Organization (WHO) designated 2020 the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife both in honour of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, but also in recognition of the enormous contribution nurses and midwives make day in and day out on lives across the globe. From sperm to worm, nurses and midwives are there. It seemed a perfect alignment.

This is not a whinge about my cancelled trip to Turkey due to COVID-19. Instead, I would like to tell you why I wanted to visit the museum. It is very small, there are not many artefacts, and it is difficult to arrange a visit. But for a nurse like myself, it is like your first visit to the Sistine Chapel. It is an opportunity to celebrate greatness.

Florence Nightingale came from a wealthy English family. Her parents did not want her to be a nurse. They wanted her to marry well. Nightingale persisted and finally studied nursing in Germany when she was in her late 20s. Smart and hardworking she became a hospital superintendent before accepting a leadership role in bringing nurses to the Crimean War to care for Turkish and Allied solders.

What she found in the army hospitals was that soldiers were dying of infections and other preventable illnesses due to contaminated water and food, unhygienic conditions, lack of clean equipment, linens, and sterile supplies. She and her team of nurses set about rectifying this with clean physical spaces, improved ventilation, physical distancing, ongoing clinical monitoring, disinfection of equipment and surfaces, and frequent hand-washing. Sound familiar?

Nightingale and her nurses reduced the mortality rate by almost 70 per cent in the first year they were there. Despite suffering ill health during and after the war, which left her largely bedridden for the next 50 years, Nightingale used the large sum of money she was awarded by the queen to build a hospital and set up a training school for nurses.

Nightingale Schools spread to dozens of countries around the world including Canada. In addition to hands on care, Nightingale taught nurses how to determine best practices through basic research, use of moral principles, and she encouraged interdisciplinary education. Nightingale was the first woman member of the Royal Statistical Society. She was invited to join due to her work as part of the First Royal Commission following the Crimean War using knowledge of statistics and epidemiology to transform military hospitals and care.

How ironic that COVID-19 has occurred in the Year of the Nurse and Midwife on the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. During my 45 years as a nurse, I have had the great good fortune to work with wonderful colleagues in Texas, Toronto, the Dominican Republic, Qatar, Australia, Nova Scotia, and even in my adopted hometown of Minden. I have never been prouder of nurses than I have been during this year. Nurses have stepped up to the plate with trepidation, courage, and detailed preparation for new best practices. The road ahead, as we all cope with COVID-19, will be long and uncertain, but we will all be better cared for in sickness and in health, in birth and in death, because of nurses and midwives.

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