Every year, on May 12, I am extremely proud to celebrate and express my gratitude to the nursing colleagues working across the health and care system on International Nurses Day. This date marks the birth date of Florence Nightingale in 1820.
Many of us immediately thought of Nightingale holding a lamp. In your mind’s eye, if you know more about his history, you can keep him in Crimea, helping the wounded British soldiers. Very few people – or less than he deserves – know how to give him credit for the crucial public health leadership role he played. He acknowledges that many people are dying due to poor sanitation and lack of effective infection control control interventions.
It wasn’t until I started working on public health that I fully realized how Nightingale used statistics to achieve major health reforms. While in Crimea, Nightingale used a pioneering way to present his findings, collecting data on hospital deaths for 2 years. Using images of her roses, she was able to explain that most people were dying from poor sanitation and infections, which were originally considered preventable.
I also think of the courage and leadership of Mary Jane Sicol, a nurse whose work and influence have been lost over time because of her color. Sikol, born 23 November 1805, showed immense courage in setting up British hotels and visiting front lines to care for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War.
Her story is finally revealed and she deserves to be remembered for her courage, perseverance and inclusion. This is something that has never been more important to our nursing profession, as we acknowledge the huge inequalities that exist across our communities.
Celebrating the nursing tradition
So, in 2022, we should celebrate both Seikol and Nightingale, who have proven that our nursing profession can be a voice for leadership. They were courageous leaders, statisticians and public health pioneers who challenged the world to work differently to save and improve lives.
Our access to data has certainly improved since the 1800s and so has our understanding of the leading causes of premature illness and death. We have also improved our knowledge of evidence-based interventions that can be used to reduce preventable deaths and ill health, from preconceived notions to old age. However, there is still a tendency for our profession to focus on the management and treatment of diseases and ill health, rather than focusing on public health prevention, protection and promotion.
As the world begins to recover from the COVID-19 epidemic, it will be important to consider the lessons learned for the nursing profession and what changes need to be made to make us truly better and more just.
The epidemic has given us all the opportunity to see more clearly that all nurses play an important public health role regardless of their specialty or setting. Now it is imperative that we build on this knowledge and consider ways to play a greater role in disease prevention, health care and health promotion. The nursing profession will play an important role in tackling the growing health inequalities that have been further highlighted by the COVID-19 epidemic.
On this International Nurses’ Day, I will celebrate past nursing colleagues – a tradition we can be proud of. I would be happy to thank all the current and future colleagues who are building our strong track record as a profession and who are a voice for collective leadership.
Nursing is an amazing profession and I am proud to be a part of it. We nurses will play a key role in driving a decade of transformation and change into the 2020s, allowing more people to live longer and healthier lives, regardless of where you live or where your life began. At the heart of this achievement is the vision of all nurses who see themselves as public health professionals who, like Mary and Florence, can work boldly to improve health outcomes for all.
Happy International Nurses Day!