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Nursing Theories of Florence Nightingale

Nursing Theories of Florence Nightingale


Nursing is the ultimate academic discipline and practice profession to have been shaped by women's leadership. Nursing was historically viewed as an extension of a woman's role in the home. Organized nursing had its roots in religious orders of women and men, such as the Knights Templar, dating back centuries before the era of Florence Nightingale, considered the mother of professional nursing. Professional nursing, with a planned educational program, began with the work of Nightingale, one of two daughters of an English family of wealth and influence. Born into this aristocratic English family while they were living in Florence, Italy, Nightingale was educated in languages, science, and mathematics, unlike most women of her social class during that era (Masters, 2012). Nightingale was a leader not only in nursing but in her country. She set the stage for leadership for the thousands of women across the world who would come behind her to lead nursing into the next 2 centuries.

Florence Nightingale, the founder of nursing, believed in a holistic approach to health promotion and disease prevention, and that adequate light, clean air and water, and sanitary living conditions were essential to health. Lillian Wald, who founded the Visiting Nurse Service in the late 1800s, recognized the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation and taught new immigrants—who lived in cramped, squalid conditions in New York tenement buildings—the relationship between cleanliness and health (Selanders, 1993). However, nursing's emphasis on living conditions and the immediate environment gradually changed throughout the 1900s.

Introduction to Florence Nightingale's environmental theory

Environmental health was particularly relevant to nursing at the turn of the century, when nurses worked primarily in the community and living conditions were not to today's standards. However, as public health improved, most notably after World War II, nursing became more hospital based and patient focused. In the 1960s, authors such as Paul Ehrlich, who wrote The Population Bomb, and Rachel Carson, who wrote Silent Spring, precipitated a shift in attitudes by bringing public attention to issues of overpopulation and environmental degradation. Slowly, the general public became aware of the importance of taking personal responsibility for the impact of its behavior on human health and the environment, and the environmental movement was born. As the environmental movement became more mainstream, the healthcare industry became aware of its role in contributing to environmental pollution (Masters, 2012).

Within the last 25 years, nursing has renewed its interest in the environment and acknowledged the significant role the profession has to play in improving health in this area. Since the 1980s, when the terms green health and sustainable development first came into common usage, the profession of nursing has gradually evolved to define its role more broadly in addressing environmental health through nursing practice, research, education, and advocacy at the individual and population levels (Snowden, Donnell & Duffy, 2010).

Florence Nightingale's concept on environment

Although Nightingale never specifically used the term in her writings; but environment is defined and described in five concepts: ventilation, lighting, temperature, diet, ...
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