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Florence Nightingale: All washed up as nursing symbol?

Florence NightingaleApril 29, 2003 -- Today The Washington Post ran an important if somewhat sensationalized piece by Roxanne Nelson on doubts some nurses have expressed as to the appropriateness of retaining Florence Nightingale as a prominent symbol of the nursing profession.

The article leads with the breaking news that a large British trade union had--in 1999-- "unanimously declared that nursing was long overdue for a more contemporary role model." It goes on to examine whether the popular image of Nightingale as an ascetic saint is appropriate for a modern profession in crisis, whether that image bears any relation to what she actually did, and whether, despite her towering achievements, she can be "blamed" for the current nursing shortage.

Some appear to simultaneously call Nightingale to account for her too-submissive popular image and the aggressive, ambitious woman she really was; evidently, female leaders remain in a no-win situation, even today.

Nelson does makes an effort to balance her provocative account of nursing revisionism with measured analysis from nursing and Nightingale experts. The lengthy article also provides a valuable perspective on the development of nursing and raises key issues about the image of nursing today, though it places too much emphasis on Nightingale's personal qualities and overstates the extent to which she has been "knocked from her pedestal."

Click here to see a less optimistic analysis of the article from Maryann Fralic, RN, DrPH, Professor of Nursing, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.

Click here to see The Washington Post article.

More news on Florence Nightingale...

May 3, 2003 -- A Baltimore Sun article New diagnosis for Nightingale by Michael Stroh describes a conference forum held recently at the University of Maryland School of Medicine at which psychiatrist Katherine Wisner argued that the illness that confined Nightingale to her home for decades--yet allowed her to remain extraordinarily productive--was bipolar disorder.