Celebrating the founder of modern nursing

Students from the University of Plymouth take part in the lamp procession at Westminster Abbey (Picture: Ross Young)

Earlier this week, students and academics from the University helped to commemorate Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

During a special service at Westminster Abbey, 20 final year nursing and midwifery students were invited to take part in the ceremony and escort a procession with her Lamp, which has become an international symbol of nursing.

Florence Nightingale was, and still is, a powerful figure in the history of nursing. When the Crimean was started in 1854, she led the introduction of women as nurses, to care for wounded soldiers in the military hospitals in Turkey.

She was a memorable, reassuring sight at night as she carried her lantern when she checked on the wounded, and so consequently she became known as ‘The Lady with the Lamp’.

Conditions were terrible in the wards and she quickly fought to introduce better sanitation and ventilation, which resulted in significant reductions in death rates among the wounded soldiers from 40 per cent to two per cent.

Her ideas, which were revolutionary at the time, changed care and her influences are still seen today.

After the war ended, she went on to make nursing a respectable profession for women and, in 1860, she established the world’s first school of nursing at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Nightingale is also credited with founding a School of Midwifery at London’s King's College Hospital, which became a model for the country.

Today, her legacy lives on and Florence Nightingale is still seen as one of nursing’s most important historical figures. And each year nurses and midwives from all over the world gather together in Westminster Abbey to honour this very great lady.

She reflected the values, vision and voice that remain so important for nursing today.

She recognised the important contribution nurses could make in health care, and believed passionately about the individual person and their unique care needs.

She understood that it was vitally important to look after an individual's mental and physical health, as well as sickness, which was an idea well ahead of its time and one that resonates with nurses and midwives today.

In recognition of her work, nurses and midwives across the world commemorate Florence Nightingale on International Nurses Day, which is held annually on her birthday (12 May).

The theme for 2018 is ‘Nurses – a voice to lead – Health is a human right’, and it comes swiftly after the International Day of the Midwife, whose theme was ‘Midwives leading the way with quality care’.

To this day, the Florence Nightingale Foundation continues her work to help, support and guide nurses and midwives to represent their profession at all levels of our health system. And it was through them that our nursing and midwifery students were invited to take part in the commemoration service.

The Westminster Abbey ceremony is a memorable occasion during which the lives of those nurses who have died in the service of others are honoured, and it provides a unique opportunity for nurses and midwives, family members and guests to celebrate their professions and celebrate Florence Nightingale’s extraordinary legacy to healthcare.

The central part of the ceremony is the procession of the Lamp, which has become in international symbol of nursing; for so many patients, nurses bring light into the darkest of places.

This year, for the first time, the Lamp was carried by a Florence Nightingale Foundation Scholar and escorted by our student nurses and midwives.

The Lamp party processed the length of Westminster Abbey, around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, through the Nave to the Sacrarium, where it was handed to another Scholar, representing the transmission of knowledge from one nurse to another.

It was then offered to the Dean of Westminster Abbey who placed it on the High Altar. All present then renewed their commitment to serve those in need of our care today – it was a very moving time for all.

One of the students Jayne, a mental health nursing student due to graduate in September, commented after the ceremony that “it was such an incredible experience! I feel very proud and privileged to have been part of it”.

Florence Nightingale took nursing from a lowly status to that of being a highly respected and valued profession, and seeing the students escort the Lamp with pride emanating from all of them was very special.

(Picture: Ross Young)

That evening, they reflected so strongly the vital role that nursing and midwifery have in healthcare today.

They are the future of our healthcare system, but by commemorating the past, we remind ourselves of the significant contributions that both professions have made, and will continue to make, in shaping our world.

Florence Nightingale is renowned for introducing the caring standards and evidence-based principles that lie at the heart of nursing and midwifery today.

She remains a very influential figure for all nurses and midwives and it was a very great honour for us to have played such a significant part in this very special commemorative service.

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