The legacy of Florence Nightingale and others on modern nursing

Nursing has been around for centuries, and it’s still one of the important professions today. Over time, the nursing profession has evolved and changed, and one of the reasons for this is the influence of key individuals who have shaped the profession. Florence Nightingale is one of the most well-known names when it comes to nursing. Her work inspired other nurses to make their own contributions to the field, and today, nursing is an essential part of healthcare worldwide.


When we consider the most iconic figures whose legacies are still known today and will extend past generations to come, Nightingale is one of the names we’ll always mention. Her work saved innumerable people during the Crimean War and through the mid-1800s. From her pioneering treatment methods that have now evolved into modernized hospital care today, Nightingale has cemented her legacy in modern nursing.


However, as much as she is one of the most popular figures, there are a number of other people who have also impacted the nursing profession. Here, we break down the legacy of Florence Nightingale and others like Linda Richards, Clara Barton and Mary Eliza Mahoney, who have all played a significant role in advancing the modern nursing profession.


Florence Nightingale’s legacy


Every year, May 12th marks International Nurses Day. The date is significant as it is the day Florence Nightingale was born in 1820. The US also celebrates National Nurses Day on May 6th, and it all ties back to the influence of Nightingale. If you’re interested in pursuing this admirable career, Baylor University offers online programs that help aspiring nurses get the training and clinical placements they need to enter the workforce.


Nightingale was born into elite social circles, and she used that as an opportunity to advance the course of the nursing profession. During the Crimean War, she provided medical aid with a core team of 38 other volunteer nurses. She treated the sick irrespective of their condition or class, nor the time of day. It was from these acts that she got the nickname “The Lady with the Lamp,” as she was regularly seen doing rounds at night by lamplight. Nightingale established the world’s first secular nursing school at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, now at King’s College London. She published notes on nursing that formed the core curriculum at the Nightingale School and which later became available to the general public.


Following her service during the Crimean War, Nightingale was conferred a heroine’s honor among many other awards. As a result, she inspired many young women to become nurses, and more people began to enroll at higher institutions to major in nursing. 


Linda Richards’ legacy


Richards was one of the first people Florence Nightingale influenced in the methodologies of nursing. Eventually, Richards became the first professionally trained nurse in the United States and established some of the first nurse training programs in the US and Japan.


In her lifetime, she was the first President of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools and worked to push other interests, like that of mental health institutions. Eventually, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the ANA Hall of Fame.


If there’s one thing Richards should be remembered for, it’s that she paved the way for official standards in nursing training both nationally and internationally. Her philosophy was that everyone deserves access to quality healthcare, even during times of war, as she lost her parents to tuberculosis and her fiancé during the American Civil War.


Clara Barton’s legacy


Also born in the same era as Nightingale and Richards, Clara Barton was a teacher, humanitarian, nurse and founder of the American Red Cross. She started out by hosting the American Red Cross at her apartment and went on to establish the American International Red Cross in Turkey. She was also very involved during the Civil War, providing soldiers with medical care and going as far as the front lines. Her courageous acts got her the name ‘Angel of the Battlefield.’


Barton also led the Office of Missing Soldiers after the war and received several awards, two of which were the Golden Cross of Baden and the Iron Cross of Germany, which came after the Franco-Prussian War.


Her acts were guided by dedication to healthcare provision, specifically in dangerous situations. Most significantly, Barton’s work with the Red Cross has made a lasting impression on the nursing profession as we know it today.


Mary Eliza Mahoney’s legacy


Mary Eliza Mahoney not only made a name for herself in the nursing profession, but she also did the same for the black community that she represented. She graduated from the New England Hospital for Women and Children’s Nursing School in 1879 and became the first African American nurse to do so. Her legacy is even more compelling when we consider that she started out as a cook and janitor in the same organization.


Eventually, she became the first black member of the American Nurses Association and went on to found the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses while building a successful career as a notable private care nurse.


Today, she’s remembered as one of the first to support equal opportunity advancement for minorities in her field. The Mary Mahoney Award is named in her honor to give recognition to those who are doing the same today.


These iconic women, among many others, elevated the status of the nursing profession. Their contributions have left a legacy that nurses will not forget for years to come. Modern nursing has seen their impact through integrated healthcare, improved public perception of the profession, inclusion and racial equality and general advancement of medical institutions.


Nursing can indeed be a very demanding profession that involves long hours and sacrifices, but these contributions will continue the legacy began by generations before them.


Florence Nightingale and the above names are just a few of the many individuals who will not be forgotten in the nursing profession, as they helped usher in the modern age of nursing.

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