International Nurses Day will again be celebrated exclusively online through social media and web platforms, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. May 12, 2021 will mark the annual celebration of the efforts of nurses from all around the world, but also the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale; the influential woman dubbed the ‘mother of modern nursing’ and ‘the lady with the lamp.’ The celebrations will hold a substantially greater significance this year, due to the extraordinary endeavours of nurses in every country affected by the Pandemic across the globe, without whom we would have been completely overwhelmed as a result of the crisis.
Two aspects of modern healthcare that have been particularly crucial during the Covid-19 pandemic were both introduced by Nightingale herself – the use of data and statistics to attempt to control the spread of infection, and an improvement in sanitary methods, such as washing hands. She is most famous for her work during the Crimean War from 1854 to 1856, where she served as the ‘Superintendent of the Female Nursing Establishment of the English General Hospitals in Turkey.’ It was here that she was able to put her considerable mathematical skills to good use in order to analyse the reasons for such a high mortality rate in hospitals during the war, and also where she earned the nickname for wandering around at night with a lamp, tending to patients.
Nightingale suspected very quickly that the high mortality rate of 60% in the hospitals was not due to battle wounds, but to poor hygiene methods. Diseases such as typhus and cholera were widespread in the hospitals upon her arrival, so she started collecting data to calculate the mortality rate of hospital patients. Upon discovering that there were significant differences in death rates between hospitals, she realised that many deaths must have been caused by local factors in the hospital. By introducing sanitary improvements in one hospital and observing a huge fall in the death rate, she was also able to ascertain that the local factor was hospital hygiene. Thus, her findings contributed to a drop in the mortality rate to 42% by February 1855, and then to 2% a few months later.
This statistical analysis of death rates is just as pertinent today with the Coronavirus crisis as it was in the 19th century, as many countries have recorded considerable differences in death rates.
Nightingale also believed in ongoing education and instruction of nurses. She developed an approach to research methodology that made her an early contributor to what would become “evidence- based healthcare. Her education and theory has carried over to current nursing practice.