Parting Thoughts: 10 Lessons Learned from Florence Nightingale’s Life

The final post in a series by Susan Hassmiller, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Senior Adviser for Nursing, sent to us as dispatches from her summer vacation spent retracing Florence Nightingale’s influential career. The full series can be found by clicking here.  

My husband has called this trip a “game changer” for me, and indeed it has been.  I see things differently now, including our health care system . . . and the critical contributions that nurses are making, and need to continue making, to improve care for patients. Of course, I always knew this, but somehow this ups the ante for me—and I will use my new education to up the ante for nurses. I have learned so much, but let me share these 10 lessons I gleaned from Ms. Nightingale.

1. Never, ever stop learning. 
A broad education in the arts and sciences helps with critical thinking and making important connections that lead to action. I saw how Florence used her knowledge of math, statistics, sanitation, religion, and architecture to put a holistic plan together to improve the systems that care for patients.

2. Ground yourself and your work in facts and evidence. Make your case indisputable.  Everyone should do this . . . not just those who call themselves “researchers.”

3. Muster the courage to follow your convictions. Step beyond what you think you can do.

4. Treat every person holistically. Every person has a spiritual, mental, and physical side that must be nurtured for complete healing to occur.

5. Know your strengths and know your weaknesses. If you don’t know what they are, ask someone. Choose a job where you can make the most of your strengths. Contribute, contribute, and then contribute some more.

6. Use your network to accomplish what you think you might be unable to accomplish on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask important people to help you finish important jobs and make needed improvements. Likewise, say yes to helping others when you are asked.

7. Speak and write often about the lessons/learnings that you would like to share with others.

8. If you see something that needs to be changed, change it! Nightingale said, “Deed, not creed.”

9. Don’t blame others for how things are, if you are not willing to change them yourself. Or at least solicit help from others to make needed changes.

10. Keep your standards high. Lack of time, fatigue, and ambivalence all undermine high standards. Our patients deserve more.

Sue Hassmiller at statue of Florence Nightingale, London*

* Note on photo: Of the many statues in London, there are only two that depict women who are not members of the royal family, and both are of nurses! The other nurse statue is of Edith Louisa Cavell, described by Wikipedia as “a British nurse and humanitarian. She is celebrated for helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium during World War I, for which she was executed.”

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2016-11-21T13:16:26+00:00 July 22nd, 2010|nursing history|12 Comments

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  1. ntokozo February 1, 2015 at 5:09 am

    Well said beautiful words and reminder about our profession

  2. Bonnie Mitchell January 24, 2015 at 2:09 am

    I once thought that I wanted to be a nurse, but it didn’t work out. I ended up with a degree in Sociology, and became a social worker. I still have a great respect for nurses, and found these articles very interesting.

    Now I am going to hunt up books about, and maybe by Florence Nightingale.

    Thank You.

  3. raeswari November 1, 2014 at 2:47 am

    As a women counselor that i am teaching about Mother of the Care giver TOTHE PROJECT CALLED UDAVUM KARANGAL., who is none other than MISS.FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE LIVING IN THE WORLD THROUGH HER DISCIPLES OF NURSES & MANY PROFESSIONS-for nurses,volunteers, students in the school,

  4. […] that Florence Nightingale means to the nursing profession. As I read Notes on Nursing, I read others’ thoughts about Nightingale, as well. Turns out we have a diversified view of her within our profession. Nightingale is still a […]

  5. […] I’m just not sure how I feel about Nightingale at the moment. There are quite the varying opinions about her amongst ourselves. It’s a strange conversational dichotomy occurring in my mind, as […]

  6. Sue Hassmiller July 30, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    More on Brucellosis: the disease that Florence Nightingale had

  7. Sue Hassmiller July 30, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Diana: We learned that Nightingale contracted Brucellosis from contaminated goat from the Crimea area. Someone made the link in about 1995 and if you track the symptoms…and what she complained about all those years, they say it tracks exactly. This apparently has become the most accepted explanation of her decades of pain, fatigue, depression and more. What she accomplished in that state is a testament to her intellect, drive, and passion to make a difference!

  8. djmasonrn July 30, 2010 at 10:47 am

    I love this list! Flo was a fascinating woman. Was there any discussion of why she took to her bed after the Crimean War? Some have speculated that she had chronic fatigue syndrom. It has always amazed me that, even from her bed, she continued to be an infuential person and policymakers came to HER. When Judy Chicago first exhibited her multimedia work, The Dinner Pary, Flo was sone of the women she highlighted but she defined her as a social reformer and statistician–never as a nurse! I wrote in the book that was displayed for people to share their thoughts about the exhibit that I was quite disappointed that a feminist exhibit would not include Nightingale’s most fundamental role as a nurse. I have no idea if she changed this script when it was exhibited again several years ago. Thank you, Sue, for this great travel log.

  9. Jennifer B July 28, 2010 at 9:49 am

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  10. Sue Hassmiller July 24, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Julie Fairman, as a prominent nurse historian has been very influential in helping me to understand the rold of history on our profession…and this trip was the icing on the cake.

  11. Julie Fairman July 23, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    I really enjoyed following your journey and I loved the blogging. Your reflections are also a first hand example of why history is important to nursing as a practice discipline. Our history provides the foundation for how we think about modern practice, how we develop strategies to solve problems, and that our problems are not unique but context dependent. Congratulations on a wonderful journey!

  12. Katie Kessler July 23, 2010 at 12:02 pm


    Thanks so much for writing this blog – you have captured what we all experienced during the trip beautifully. It was indeed, “a game changer” for me as well and I am grateful for both the opportunity and the company.

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