Being Well

Florence Nightingale’s Birthday: A Chance to Honor Nursing’s History and Future

Florence Nightingale's advances to patient care during the Crimean War still resonate with nurses today. She changed the field forever, and continues to influence nurses today, including those at UVA Cancer Center.

“Nursing is an art: and if it is to be made an art, it requires exclusive devotion as hard a preparation as any painter’s or sculptor’s work … It is one of the fine arts: I had almost said, the finest of fine arts,” wrote Florence Nightingale.

May 6 begins National Nurse’s Week, a time to honor the medical professionals who carry on Nightingale’s legacy. These dates are also her birthday week. At UVA Cancer Center, one of the nurses even brings a cake to work to honor the woman who has influenced so many.

“Florence was a woman ahead of her time,” says Adrienne “Adi” Banavage, nursing education coordinator at the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center. “I’ve always wanted to be a nurse, and I remember being a kid and feeling excited about what she did. It was revolutionary at the time, and now we take so many of her advancements for granted.”

Changing the Practice

Considered the founder of modern nursing, Nightingale completely revolutionized how the world viewed nurses and established an entirely new expectation for patient care.

Born in 1820 to a wealthy family, Nightingale’s choice to become a nurse was not well-received by her parents, according to Biography. At that time, nursing was looked at as a lesser profession. Yet, she felt her calling. Patients are still benefiting from her choice nearly 200 years later.

During the Crimean War, Nightingale completely transformed the care of wounded soldiers and altered the nursing profession forever. She emphasized sanitation and infection prevention. She made sure linens were clean and soldiers had food tailored to their needs. Every night, she visited the patients, giving them solace as well as medical care.

Nightingale was also a statistician. She developed reporting tools for infections during the war and compiled her notes, observations and medical recommendations into a book later in life.

Influencing the Future

Nightingale’s work still influences nurses today. Adrienne Banavage has been a nurse for 28 years, serving in critical care units and inpatient and outpatient oncology. Now she is a clinical educator, where she trains nurses and helps them pursue their career and educational goals.

“Being a nurse, you directly impact patients’ lives and their families,” she says. “You see people in the best times and worst times. You affect how the individuals and their families recall those times, physically, emotionally and psychologically. Now that I get to teach nurses, I feel like I’m able to impact their lives and the care of many patients.”

Although inspired by Florence Nightingale’s story as a kid, Banavage didn’t get the full impact of her contributions to the field of nursing until studying her story during grad school.

“It was really eye opening to me thinking about my nursing practice and investigating her story to see the contributions she continues to make to the profession,” Banavage says. “So much of health care is focused on outcomes and preventing harm. Lately there’s been a resurgence of her belief that ‘the very first requirement in a hospital is that it should do the sick no harm.'”

Nightingale’s innovations remain the underpinnings of so many hospitals’ organizational goals. The profession is lucky to have a founder, and role model, that shows such a passion for her work that has also stood the test of time.

“What continues to resonate most with me is her focus on the patient and how the simple things nurses do are incredibly powerful,” Banavage says. With nurses and educators like Banavage working today, enhancing the fine art of nursing is easy and rewarding — something Florence Nightingale would be proud of.

Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney