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Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War

Written by Steve Belcher

Who was Florence Nightingale?

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was a British Nurse, social reformer and statistician who is best known for her efforts to reform nursing and healthcare. She was the advantaged child of a wealthy family and decided to use this position to help the most vulnerable in society. Initially her family were disapproving of her decision to become a nurse as this role was not viewed as respectable for genteel women. She was deeply religious and felt like her faith should manifest in active care for others. Her nursing reform was influential and improved the quality of nursing care in the 19th and 20th centuries and today she is known as the founder of modern nursing. As well as nursing she was a talented statistician, in 1858 she became the first woman member of the Royal Statistical Society and in1874 also became an honorary member of the American Statistical Society.

The Crimean War

On the 28th of March 1854, Britain and France declared war on Russia and for the next two years troops fought against the Russians.The death toll was large, of the 1650,000 soldiers from the warring nations around 900,000 died. Florence Nightingale's most famous contribution was during the Crimean war, where she organized and trained a group of 38 nurses who would travel to aid the wounded soldiers during the conflict. When Nightingale arrived at the Selimiye Barracks in 1854 she found the wounded soldiers being cared for in terrible conditions. Basic hygiene measures were not taken, and many of the wounded suffered from mass infections which were often fatal. Medicines, bandages, beds and bathing facilities were also in short supply. Nightingale herself stated about the conditions that the "British high command had succeeded in creating the nearest thing to hell on earth". Nightingale also noted that 10 times more soldiers were dying of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid and typhus than those that succumbed to wounds from battle. She determined that this was due to the overcrowding of soldiers, poor hygiene measures and inadequate latrine and sewer facilities. She worked to greatly improve the hygiene and living conditions of the soldiers which resulted in a huge reduction of disease and fatalities. Even the simple change of implementing handwashing in the hospital greatly reduced the amount of infections in the wounded soldiers. Stephen Paget claimed that Nightingale reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% by making improvements to hygiene.

After the Crimean War

When Nightingale returned to Britain the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army was created. She prepared a report for the commission in which she advocated for the use of statistics as a tool for decision making. She created graphs to demonstrate how more soldiers died from disease than from wounds. She continued to improve sanitation in army and civilian hospitals during peacetime. When she returned to London after the Crimean war she founded a nursing school at St.Thomas' Hospital. This was the first ever secular nursing school in the world. She also wrote educational books about nursing. Notes on Nursing (1859) was the foundation of the curriculum in the nursing school she established, as well as in other nursing schools, and was even popular with the public. She wrote more educational books such as Notes on Hospitals, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army and Notes on Matters Affecting the Health. She spent the remainder of her career working towards the development of nursing as a profession and paved the way for modern nursing in its current form. She helped to define the nursing practice by claiming that nurses did not necessarily need to know all about the diseases that the patients suffered from , but rather they needed to know how to care for a patient through keeping a sanitary and pleasant environment as well as helping the patient deal with symptoms and pain related to their illness. Today she is remembered for her efforts and International Nurses Day is celebrated on her birthday.

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