What would Florence Nightingale do?


Image: K Leoungk


Today is the centenary of  Florence Nightingale’s death. Nightingale’s theories and teachings are over a century old and yet it still has relevance in today’s society.

It seems incredible that before she came on the scene, washing hands and general cleanliness was not the norm in the first line of defense against infection. Incredulously, the ritual of hand washing seems now to have been lost on an entire generation or more. I myself have witnessed more than enough adults who seem unaware or unconcerned about the virtues of soapy water, especially in public places.


She also embraced the holistic approach of treating patients as a whole rather than just as parts. She recognized when treating injured soldiers during the Crimean War that their mental stability was just as important as their physical injuries. This approach is akin to that of traditional acupuncturists. We have long understood that sometimes, if you just treat the symptoms the problem may lessen, but rarely does it go away. Instead you have need to treat the root of the problem.

Nightingale advocated prevention over cure which is the fundamental logic of traditional acupuncture. Illness and ill health occur when the flow of qi is obstructed but if you can regulate qi so that it doesn’t even have the chance to to be blocked then you lower the likelihood of becoming unwell.

What would the nursing pioneer think if she were alive today? Would she be aghast that after all this time, hospital staff still need to be taught that cleanliness is of the utmost importance when it should be in society’s fibers? Would she wonder at the understaffed clinics and surgeries when the waiting time is endless and the consultation time is not even a fraction of that.


Or would she be glad that although it’s been a long time coming (in the West at least) we are remembering that nature is good for us. People in urban areas are making an effort to go to parks or further afield to the countryside. We are starting to understand that under the surface of every symptom, there is a person with a unique character. Would she be pleased that we also regained the knowledge that food is also a type of medicine. Better to eat fish than to take loads of omega-3 supplements. But even better is the fact that people at least try to take supplements. Our health is our responsibility – professionals are just there to better guide us along. 


Other posts you may be interested in:

Health and wellbeing | Six things we can learn from a construction site

East Meets West | The development of traditional Chinese medicine in the west