Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820. She is most remembered as a pioneer of nursing and a reformer of hospital sanitation methods. She was a victorian women and in the era in which she lived it was almost impossible to gain any recognition as a scholar and an expert in her field. She accomplished this feat with the use of power. The purpose of this paper is to explore the avenues of power that she used in order to cause the changes in nursing that she believed were so important.
When Nightingale was a child, she fought with her mother for the right to study mathmatics. Her mother held firm to the belief that girls were only supposed to study poetry and philosophy, this would give them the background to make a good bride and be able to hold intelligent conversasions at parties. Nightingale fough against this and finally convinced her father to allow her to study mathmatics. When she turned of age, she again shocked her family by enrolling in a nursing program at Kaiserworth, Germany. Most people believed that a nurses role should only be filled by common women and prostitutes. Nighingale made it a personal priority to change this image( Baly,57).

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She spent three years in Germany training to become a nurse, after this she recruited a small number of untrained women and took them to a British military hospital in Scutari, where she trained them and taught them her philosophies of nursing. She believed that fresh air, water and sunshine were critical to the recovery of her patients. Efficiant drainage of wounds, cleanliness and a healthy diet were extremely important, in the days when these methods were not taught. She beleived that moving a patients bed to 3 give them a better view was a nurses responsibility, along with the responsibility to provide a healthy diet and to record what was eaten daily. Her emphasis on cleanliness of bed linens and patients was scoffed at by the medical profession but proved to be an innovation for the medical field in the future. She always held nurses responsible for the health of their patients, this included not only cleanliness, but also the environment in which the patients were healing. Noisy hallways and rooms were not allowed. Unruly family members would be asked to leave. She believed that if she changed a patients environment she could eventually bring about changes in the patient( Chitty, 250 ).
It has often been said that Nightingale refused to accept the germ theory, this theory stated that all illness came directly from germs. Florence Nightingale believed in germs she just added to this theory by explaining that germs were not the only thing that caused illness. Over and over again her letters and essays laid down the law about the sterilization of instruments, in order to kill germs, however, she also believed that the environment of the patient played a crucial part in the healing process and that this factor should never be overlooked.
Sterilization and aseptic technique came slowly to London. In 1886, steam sterilization of dressings was pioneered in Germany and sterile rubber gloves for operations were first used in 1890. But as late as 1933 there were still surgeons that still performed abdominal surgery “ the aniseptic way, dousing bare hands, swabs and instruments with lysoform and often smoking cigarretes while performing surgery”(Cope,168). Nightingale taught her nurses that this method was incorrect and insisted that the nurses under her instruction uses a correct method.
By the time Nightingale composed her polar area diagram she had extensive knowledge in nursing and mathmatics. It was this knowledge that her power in the nursing community was based on. After training in Germany and spending some time nursing the wounded in the Crimean war he had made extensive political contacts and these also played a role in her political power. She used the contacts to no only improve the medical fielsd but also to critsize them. It was her critical nature that made her the enemy of many doctors and medical communities.
After the war Nightingale realized that many soldiers had died not of there original wounds but from nocosomial infections.It was at this time that she decided to use her power to change some things in the medical field. Her political contacts did not always agree with her, especially if her knowledge seemed to upset traditions that were held in the medical field. As explained earlier, she believed that the environment played an essintial role in the body’s ability to heal. If an environment was not clean the germs and bacteria would grow and contaminate the body. This was a direct contradiction to the beliefs that were held by the majority of doctors(Goldie,74).
Nightingale founded the first school of nursing that based it’s ideas and education on her methods. It was in this way that her knowledge and power had a major influence on nurses everywhere. Most nursing schools are based on her model and subsequently hold on to her beliefs that environment plays such a huge role in the body’s healing abilities. Time and time again the medical community tried to hush Nightingale, but through her political contacts she was able to make her ideas known.
Her mathmatics abilities provided her the knowledge to compose the first statistical analysis of the medical community. In her Polar- area diagram, she meticulosly plotted all deaths resulting form nocosomial infection. It was officially known as the Diagram of the causes of Mortality in the Army in the East. It showed that most of the deaths of British soldiers in the Crimean war died of sickness rather than wounds suffered on the battle field. It also showed that the death rate was higher in the first year of the war, than after the sanitary commisioners changed their policies and gave inspections to improve hygiene in the camps and in the hospitals(Smith,139).
The government would not allow her to publish he most damning statistics which showed that hospital conditions were the main cause of death, but through her political contats she was allowed to publish the diagram. She tried to support her case for better hygine by using the published army figures to show that the death rate decreased after the sanitary commision cleaned up the hospitals. However, her opponents claimed that the reduction in the death rate resulted from other changes that were made at the same time(Smith,158).
Florence Nightingale’s knowledge and power in the medical field changed the way nursing is done today. Her political influence and power were directly based on her knowledge and experience of the subject. Eventhough her contributions were not recognized at the time, they are understood now and appreciated by nurses all over the world. We, as nursing students have her to thank for changing the atitudes held about nursing and and or introducing the idea that germs are not the only thing that causes infections and that we, as nurses, have a responsibility toward our patients to not only insure a clean environment, but a well lit, and peaceful and comfortable surrounding.

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