Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Florence Nightingale and evidence-based nursing

The lady and lamp is known for her deep compassion for the sick, and her revolutionary approach to hygiene. What is not so well known is that she was also a passionate statistician. Her work was informed by research, government statistics and the clear presentation of data. She worked with experts to ensure her own research was appropriate.

When it came to presenting the results of her work she was ahead of her time in the use of tables, pie charts and bar charts. She used colour to make her points clearly. She wanted to be sure that it was clear and understandable to those who had the power to change and administer the law. In our PowerPoint computerised world this doesn’t seem unusual, but in the days when cleanliness in hospitals was viewed as an unnecessary luxury, it was remarkable.

As much as Nightingale was a nurse, she went far beyond her work in caring for the sick. She was a champion of the importance of having a statistical department to track mortality and disease. During the Crimean war 7 times as many soldiers died from disease as died from their wounds on the battlefield. Nightingale understood the importance of understanding such statistics, so the necessary changes could be made.

She was vocal on the questions asked in the 1861 census, as she understood that health was influenced by the type of housing people lived in. She was also a key influencer in changing nursing into a well-trained profession, again using data.

Despite our romantic view of a full-skirted lady caring for the sick, she was a level-headed, evidence-based thinker who fully understood the power of statistics to save not just one life, but very, very many.

The Collected Works of Florence Nightingale by Wilfred Laurier University Press describes her enormous contribution to nursing as a profession and the establishment of a public healthcare system.


  1. What a great post. Very informative and inspirational too. I'd never thought about the lady with the lamp being an 'evidence based thinker' and the impact of this on her nursing care. Emm ...food for thought ...well done.

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