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Celebrating 100 years: reflections on Florence Nightingale’s contributions to quality nursing care

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  2. Celebrating 100 years: reflections on Florence Nightingale’s contributions to quality nursing care
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The article by Burhans and Alligood (2010, pp. 1689–1697) in this issue of The Journal of Advanced Nursing caught my interest because it focuses on the meaning of ‘quality nursing care’ for nurses. These authors remind us that quality nursing care is fundamentally important to achieving quality patient outcomes. We all strive for ‘quality nursing care’ but do we know what this often used statement means?

For nurse participants in Burhans and Alligood’s study the presence of many of the fundamentals of nursing displayed contemporary quality nursing care. These were similar foundations however to quality nursing care that Florence Nightingale identified more than a century ago. That is caring, empathetic and respectful interaction, and being an advocate for patients.

This month we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s death, and it is fitting to highlight her contribution to quality nursing care. Nightingale has been long known for her contributions to nursing and nursing education, and the reform of healthcare and public health, but her contributions to quality management have had less attention. Nightingale was an advocate for the improvement of standards of care and conditions in the military and civilian hospitals in Britain and then later in the United States. It was only when she pushed for reform that nursing started to gain the respect it deserved from the broader public.

Florence Nightingale’s pioneering of nursing and the reform of hospitals and hospital care are amazing achievements, given that most women of her time did not have further education or pursue professional careers. Nightingale however was an educated woman. Her father believed that women, especially his children, should be exposed to education. So Florence Nightingale was schooled in Italian, Latin, Greek, history, and mathematics. And later she applied new techniques of statistical analysis: for example, plotting the incidence of preventable deaths in the military. When lobbying for public health reform she collected and presented data to illustrate the many deaths caused by unsanitary conditions. Nightingale’s calculations of hospital mortality rates showed that with improvement of sanitary methods, deaths would decrease. When her sanitary reform was implemented the death rate did decline. Through her analytical abilities Nightingale was able to demonstrate that social phenomena could be objectively measured and subjected to mathematical analysis. Her quality management principles and research capabilities are to be admired. Now, a century following her death she is considered an innovator in the collection, tabulation, interpretation, and graphical display of descriptive statistics.

Nightingale also developed a Model Hospital Statistical Form to enable hospitals to systematically collect and generate consistent data and statistics, again impacting on quality management. As Nightingale demonstrated, statistics provided an organized way of learning and have the potential to lead to improvements in health and surgical practices.

Florence Nightingale facilitated practice change through presentation of data. A century after her death we continue our work to understand what constitutes quality nursing care as the article by Burhans and Alligood demonstrates, and strive for the best outcomes for patients.

Reference

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  2. Celebrating 100 years: reflections on Florence Nightingale’s contributions to quality nursing care
  3. Reference