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Inspired by Florence Nightingale

11 May 2015

After months of working non-stop on my dissertation, I was feeling a little bit flat and exhausted. What I needed was to reconnect with real-life nurses to get my spark back and get fired up for the last part of my training. No better conduit for this than the Nurse who started it all: Florence Nightingale.

Florence Nightingale
I was very honoured to be chosen as the nursing student to represent the University of Northampton at the annual Students' day of the Florence Nightingale Foundation. The Foundation aims to keep Florence's legacy alive and promote nurse education by providing scholarships to nurses. Nursing and midwifery students from all over the UK had come to St Thomas' Hospital in London (where Florence opened her first training school for nurses in 1860) to learn more about Florence and her amazing work. People had even flown in from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and it was great to meet nursing students who, like me, are at the start of their nursing journey, full of enthusiasm, pride and brimming with ideas. Just what I needed after months in a stuffy library!

The first part of the day was taken up with an excellent debate about many aspects of nursing, benefiting from the knowledge from a crack panel of experts. We got the chance to ask questions and have our say about a variety of topics. It was obvious that leadership is the Big Thing in nursing today, as it took up most of the questions. I have to admit that I am a little cynical about the emphasis that is placed upon it by politicians and NHS managers. However, after the discussion, I finally understood what leadership means to nurses at the bedside and how everyone can make a difference.

When the subject of nursing research came up, I explained how at Northampton, our nursing dissertations are research proposals for tangible patient improvement projects. The panel said they very much applauded the approach the School of Health at the University has taken and that all students should try to get their work published or their research proposals put in practice.

We then watched a documentary about Florence’s life which reminded everyone how much one person can achieve if they have the drive, passion and knowledge (and, in Florence’s case, a knack for statistics apparently also helps). In a time where no respectable woman wanted to be a nurse, Florence set in motion fundamental reforms to the profession and to how hospitals were run. She sure was a leader before her time. We visited the Florence Nightingale Museum (where fellow nursing pioneers Edith Cavell and Mary Seacole were given the attention they so richly deserve!). The day ended with an impressive commemorative service at Westminster Abbey with more than 2000 nurses, old and young watching Florence’s Lamp being carried as a symbol of the transfer of nursing knowledge. In the interest of truth, I have to admit that I did not attend the church service. Unless absolutely unavoidable, I do not attend church services and having seen the Order of Service, I felt there was simply too much emphasis on thanking God (whom I do not believe in) for nurses and Florence Nightingale. However, it is still great that 2200 nurses got together to celebrate Florence and the nursing profession in general.

Let me tell you, all those people who say that degree nurses are not passionate about care should come and spend a day with this group of people. I smiled all the way through the day. We visited the Florence Nightingale Museum (where Edith Cavell and Mary Seacole were given the attention they so richly deserve!) and watched a documentary about Florence's life. She sure was a leader before her time!


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