I coined this phrase yesterday, quite unplanned but it seems worth some more attention: a “Nightingale Leap.”
Florence Nightingale wasn’t just a great nurse. She was also a powerful advocate, politician, leader, innovator.
She created modern nursing basically from scratch, against powerful opposition from the most powerful government on Earth in her day. Victorian authorities, the entire society, was mostly hostile to everything she offered. They hated the very idea of a woman speaking her mind in public, let alone criticizing authorities. Women could not vote and rarely held positions of responsibility. ALL change was assumed wrong. The powerful were right and the weak wrong, always, no questions permitted, guns and clubs at the ready as needed.
She created our profession during a brutal war, despite the military officials and initially on behalf of Irish soldiers despised by the British élite. She got it done, despite her own frequent illness. She created modern nursing AND hospitals AND new regulations and standards for the Empire. She was a force of nature and a great hero to a family and nation that fought hard not to let her succeed.
Nurses today forget too much of our history, just like most people do these days. It makes life today seem worse than it is, more permanent than it is. We forget just how far we’ve come, from a loose collection of poor, disreputable, uneducated doctor-helpers assumed to be mostly drunks. That was Nightingale’s starting point: no nursing education or standards of any kind. No respect, no institutions, no standards, no funding, nothing. She had to travel abroad to find training, and figure out where to travel first. Absolutely every little detail was a battle.
We’ve come far indeed, yet we’ve come to take it all for granted. We’ve been coasting in comparison for a long time as a profession, making very little progress and for many nurses, losing ground: losing autonomy, authority, status. Most of us do nothing about it but keep our heads down and avoid trouble, surviving day to day. Fair enough: as profits have replaced health as our industry’s top priority, ethics have taken a beating, and those who insist on basic standards too often risk their jobs and careers. Wealth and power both corrupt: corrupt forces today run over any threat, always demanding more. Our profession hangs in the balance: our future. Health care’s future.
So things today are far better for nurses than they once were, and yet we have much to do. Such is life: outside of a fairy tale, there are no happy ever afters.
We can complain or give up, and many of us do.
Here’s my suggestion:
Clearly we can deal with just anything, solve any problem, meet any demand.
We do all these things and more every day, just to get by.
Nurses created everything we have today as a profession. Nothing has been given to us. We too can push forward, create new solutions. Of course we can. We have the numbers, will, brains, connections, and the public’s trust and good will. No one else is in a better position than nurses to move health care forward, overcoming all who would dare try to stop us.
Nightingale insisted on change, envisioned it, found allies, and created it. It took years of tenacity and effort, but she did it. She and lots of other nurses willing to step up and do their part.
We can each step up today, in countless ways.
We can insist on improvements, envision them, find allies, and create solutions.
We can make our own Nightingale Leaps into a brighter future.
Let’s solve some problems!
Let’s create some solutions!
Let’s make some waves!
Let the world hear our roar!
Let’s start making Nightingale Leaps of our own.
If we find our confidence and our will, no one on earth will hold us back.
How could they? We are nurses, after all.