May 2016
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National Nurses Week

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Did You Know?

National Nurses Week

The week of May 6 through 12 is designated as National Nurses Week. It serves as an opportunity to honor and celebrate the important contributions of nurses around the world. It occurs every year to coincide with the birthday of Florence Nightingale – the founder of modern nursing.

Nightingale is famously known as the “Lady with the Lamp” for her tireless efforts rounding on sick and wounded soldiers through the night during the Crimean War. She founded the first school of nursing, advocated for healthcare on a number of important issues, and elevated the profession of nursing to one of honor. While these accomplishments serve as an inspiring legacy for nurses, perhaps most inspiring are the passion and iron determination with which she overcame enormous challenges to fulfill a “divine calling” to care for others.

She struggled with conflicting values and negative stereotypes - Born to a well-to-do English family, Nightingale’s parents encouraged her to take the life of a Victorian lady - looking decorative, playing the piano, cultivating domestic pursuits, and marrying a prominent man of social standing. They forbade a career in nursing, which at the time, was considered a low-status and disreputable occupation. Nurses were known for loose living, drunkenness, and poor training. After years of struggling to conform to traditional values, she eventually rebelled against her parent’s wishes. After refusing a marriage proposal to politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, she enrolled as a student at Kaiserswerth, a German school and hospital. A few months later, she became superintendent of the London Institution for Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Circumstances.

She was often misunderstood and considered a social misfit – Nightingale has been described as "too sensitive," "odd," "marching to the beat of a different drummer," "a loner," "stubborn," and "awkward in social situations." Her family could not understand why she refused to "fit in." Among Carl Jung's theory of psychological types, she is said to fit the INFJ Personality – the rarest of all types, matching only 1% of the population. This personality type is said to be genuinely warm, naturally nurturing, patient, deeply devoted, and protective. They are fiercely loyal to their own values, and have an intense drive to make the world a better place. However, they are also known to be extremely private and typically hard to understand. Nightingale refused to allow negative perceptions of her to hinder her commitment to helping others. In fact, many of her unique personality traits became her strengths. Extreme sensitivity to the needs of others fueled her passion. Her patients were deeply moved and comforted by her warmth and nurturing spirit, earning her the nickname the "Angel of Crimea." Later in life, she used solitude and the need for privacy to conduct research and create writings that were instrumental in improving health and professional practices around the world.

She overcame horrific working conditions – During the Crimean War in 1854, military hospitals were drastically overcrowded and understaffed. Nightingale assembled a team of 38 nurses who traveled to Scutari, Turkey, to care for sick and injured soldiers at the request of the Secretary of War. The hospital, infested with rodents and insects, sat over a large cesspool with poisonous vapors wafting from below. The water was contaminated. Patients were lying in their own excrement on straw mats lining the hallways. Basic supplies, such as bandages and soap were scarce. Soldiers were dying from their injuries, but even more so from infectious diseases, like typhoid and cholera. She quickly took action to improve conditions. She and her nurses bathed the soldiers, washed their linens, secured a source of clean drinking water, and improved overall sanitary conditions. Using her own money, she established a kitchen to prepare nutritious food and a laundry so patients would have clean linens. She used her contacts at a London newspaper to report details of the way the British Army was treating wounded soldiers. The paper’s editor took up her cause, and after much publicity she was granted official authority to organize the hospital. People around the country made contributions to help with improvements, and the mortality rate fell from 42% to 2%.

She endured criticism and prejudice – With the announcement of Nightingale’s appointment to care for soldiers in the war, officials criticized her for taking charge of what was essentially "a man's job." After arriving in Scutari, she endured prejudice and opposition form military surgeons who considered her unfeminine and a nuisance. When she began speaking out about the need for reform, officers and doctors considered her comments as an attack on their professionalism; she was made to feel incredibly unwelcome. She was publicly criticized for ordering critical supplies to be delivered to the hospital before government authorization; yet, she paid for them with her own funds. Although she could have surrendered her cause in the face of her opponents, she continued her fight for the sake of others.

She suffered with physical and mental disabilities – While in Scutari, Nightingale contracted "Crimean Fever" and never fully recovered. By the time she was 38 years old, she was essentially homebound and bedridden. In her later years, she suffered from depression and failing eyesight. Despite these conditions, she continued to work tirelessly until her death at age 90. A passionate statistician, she conducted extensive research and analysis, publishing over 200 reports, books, and pamphlets on a wide range of issues including nursing, hygiene, hospital administration and design, midwifery, and healthcare for the poor. Through her advocacy, she raised funds to improve the quality of nursing and founded the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses at St. Thomas Hospital.

Many of today's nurses enter the profession because they are driven by a calling to help people. They are recognized as the most trusted professionals in the world. As expert clinicians, caregivers, patient advocates, researchers, teachers, policymakers, deans of universities, heads of organizations, and leaders in society, they are the human component of the healthcare delivery system. They tirelessly serve others in the most intense, joyful, painful, and transformative moments of their lives while facing enormous challenges like staffing shortages, workplace violence, long hours, workplace hazards, physical and emotional stress, and conflicting personal and employer values. It is a demanding job that requires steadfast determination in the face of adversity. Perhaps the great strength of the “Lady of the Lamp” serves as an inspiring light for nurses today regarding the challenges they face. In recognition of Nurses Week, let us honor and celebrate the continuing dedication of those who commit their lives to serving others and making the world a better place.

No man, not even a doctor, ever gives any other definition
of what a nurse should be than this – devoted and obedient.

Florence Nightingale
Notes on Nursing: What it is and what it is not (1860)


Florence Nightingale. (n.d.). Retrieved from Spartacus Educational:

Florence NIghtingale. (n.d.). Retrieved from British Heritage:

Florence Nightingale Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Muirden, G. (n.d.). Florence Nightingale: Lady with the Lamp, or Radical Theologian? Retrieved from Adelaide Institute:

The Florence Nightingale Legacy. (n.d.). Retrieved from International Council of Nurses:

The Life and Letters of Florence Nightingale. (n.d.). Retrieved from LIAB Libraries:

The Patient Experience

Florence Nightingale was known for her attentive caring that transcended a diagnosis, like writing letters to soldiers to comfort them and improve their mental health. Compassion, respect, and empathy were values she believed necessary for all good nurses. Here are a few quotes from her work titled Notes on Nursing: What it is, and what it is not (1860).

  • "The official politeness of servants in these things is so grateful to invalids..."
  • "Always sit down when a sick person is talking business to you, show no signs of hurry, give complete attention and full consideration if your advice is wanted."
  • "Apprehension, uncertainty, waiting, expectation, fear of surprise, do a patient more harm than any exertion."
  • "Unnecessary noise, then, is the most cruel absence of care which can be inflicted either on sick or well."
  • "But the sick man who never leaves his bed, who cannot change by any movement of his own his air, or his light, or his warmth, who cannot obtain quiet, or get out of the smoke, or the smell, or the dust; he is really poisoned or depressed by what is to you the merest trifle."

Nurses play a vital role in the experience patients have with healthcare. They typically spend more time with patients than any other healthcare professional and have the greatest impact on patient perceptions of care. More than 50% of the questions on the HCAHPS survey sent to patients after a hospital stay are directly related to care provided by nurses:

Press Ganey has identified six critical themes for nurses in optimizing the patient experience.

  1. Acknowledge Suffering: Nurses should acknowledge patients’ suffering and should listen actively before responding.
  2. Body Language: Non-verbal communication skills are equally as important as verbal. Sitting down matters.
  3. Anxiety is Suffering: Anxiety and uncertainty greatly affect the patient experience. Nurses must strive to make patients feel safe, and are in the best place to receive the best care by the best team. They should communicate clearly and respectfully with all members of the nursing team to decrease inconsistencies in care.
  4. Coordinate Care: Nurses should demonstrate that a patient’s care is coordinated and continuous, showing that the team is always there for them. They need to know team members are talking to one another.
  5. Caring Goes Beyond Diagnosis: Real caring goes beyond medical interventions. Nurses should strive to learn things about patients that have nothing to do with the reason why they are in the hospital.
  6. Autonomy Reduces Suffering: Autonomy preserves dignity. Providing information and choices gives control to patients in an environment where they often feel they have none.

Dempsey, C. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Nurse's Role in the Patient Experience:'S+ROLE+IN+THE+PATIENT+EXPERIENCE/2293734/0/article.html

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See how well you do on these trivia questions about Nurses Week.

Who was the first U.S. President to designate a week every year as "National Nurses Week?"

A. Abraham Lincoln
B. Herbert Hoover
C. Richard Nixon
D. Bill Clinton

International Nurses Day is celebrated in the U.K. with the tradition of _____.

A. Nurses gathering to recite the Nightingale Pledge at the port where Florence Nightingale and her team of nurses departed to Turkey during the Crimean War
B. A ceremony at the Winchester Capital where nurses gather to sing Florence Nightingale’s favorite hymn
C. Laying a wreath at the sight of the hospital in London where Florence Nightingale accepted her first post
D. A symbolic lamp is handed from one nurse to another and placed on the High Altar at Westminster Abbey in London to signify the passing of knowledge from one nurse to another

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C – Richard Nixon in 1974



D – The service is held every year on May 12th.