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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