Florence Nightingale is the most well known figure in nursing history. She is best known for the advances she made in sanitation, hospital statistical records, public health and community nursing. Nightingale also wrote extensively on her religious, political and philosophical views and how they carried over into her duties as a Christian and nurse. Florence Nightingale’s contributions to nursing were largely influenced by her beliefs about God. Nightingale wrote extensively of her spiritual and religious beliefs and their connection to the way she practiced nursing. The nursing profession, as we know it today, has deep roots in Christianity. The role of spirituality in Florence Nightingales’s nursing practice is comparable to the Christian nurses who gave of themselves before her.
Although it is difficult to trace the history of nursing to the beginning, it is theorized that people have nursed each other to some extent since the beginning of mankind. This primitive nursing was mainly the care of others within families and communities. Nursing as we know today, the care of complete strangers began with Christian nurses who through the following of Christ’s teachings, would care for the disadvantaged. Christianity and the teachings of Jesus Christ were the foundation of these nurses. His messages resonated of human dignity, putting others before oneself, love and charity. In John 13:34-35 and 15:12-13, Jesus teaches of loving one’s neighbor and instructs “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: That as I have loved you, you also love one another” (as cited in Dolan, 1968, p. 66).
These Christian nurses would help bury the dead, feed the hungry, and comfort the ill. The care of the ill in a more structured fashion began with the order of Deaconesses. Their missions were built following the Corporal Works of Mercy, which included providing people with the basic needs of food, water, clothes, and shelter, visiting the imprisoned, caring for the sick and burying the dead (Dolan, 1968). These nurses also recognized those patients who lacked intellectually and spiritually. The care was provided in an almost holistic way, providing for patients’ basic needs in a respectful and dignifying way. In a more organized fashion they were able to care for the sick in their homes and provide aid to the disadvantaged. The teachings of Jesus were intricately woven into their missions. According to Dolan (1968), these early Christians “sold what they possessed and gave to the poor” (p. 67). They operated on the principles that this is how Christ lived and they aspired to live as he had before them. “For it is here, in the act of serving a brother or sister in need that the nurse truly encounters God” (O’Brien, 2011, p. 1).
Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820 in Florence, Italy (MacQueen, 2007). She was raised in the Church of England to Unitarian parents. From early on, Nightingale searched for meaning in her life through her...