Nightingale Needs to Retire

DSC00725Or at least embrace the upper-class Victorian woman’s sick-role, feign illness and take (permanently) to her bed. Oh wait! She actually did that. Nightingale, NightinMania, is the epitome of unhip, frumpy, retro nursing.

I am besieged by all things Nightingale. On my first day of the new academic year at my university, I was greeted at the door by a photograph of Nightingale and presented with my very own copy of her Notes on Nursing, Barnes and Noble 2003 edition. Since I rarely turn down the offer of another book, I took it home to join my dog-eared Dover edition. It seems that all of our incoming undergraduate nursing students will be given a copy of her book even though we have a much different Health Sciences Common Book this year: Gabor Mate‘s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts:Close Encounters With Addiction (North Atlantic, 2010). It is a nice gesture to give our students a book but I wish it had been a more contemporary and useful one.

The day after I was given a copy of Notes on Nursing I was invited to the NightinGala in Washington, DC October 16th, hosted by the Friends of the National Institutes of Nursing Research. This seems to be an annual black-tie/evening dress dinner event aimed at increasing the visibility of nursing research. I love an excuse to go to Washington, DC (all those cool museums and political wonks together in one place!), but this is one I will opt out of. I could never bring myself to go to an event called the NightinGala. That name combines two of the most cringe-worthy aspects of nursing: the cult of Nightingale and the cutesy, sophomoric nursing titles for everything from formal events to nursing research journal articles. How will nurses and nursing ever be taken seriously when we stay stuck in a Victorian sorority club mode?

On my third day back at school, while sitting in one of our prolonged faculty meetings, I pondered the Nightingale Problem. I thought about my physician friends and wondered if they are ever confronted with the Hippocrates Problem. Does he haunt their days as Nightingale haunts mine? Do they give each new medical student a copy of the Works of Hippocrates–preferably one translated from the original Greek? I happen to have a copy beside me and I especially like the following advice from Hippocrates in On Regimen in Acute Diseases: “Mode of distinguishing persons in hysterical fit. Pinch them with your fingers, and if they feel, it is hysterical.” Practical medical advice. But can you imagine a group of physicians hosting a HippocraTeaParty? Or a HippocraHave-a-beer-with-me-and-Wally-on-the-golfcourse? Or a HippocraTease-me-with-a-CME-cruise-in-the-Greek-Islands? I came up with many other increasingly silly possibilities before I swooned. Pinch me.

(The photograph here is of a Nightingale shrine that was posted outside of my university office. I have moved my office and am hopeful that she will not reappear.)

2 thoughts on “Nightingale Needs to Retire

  1. Similarly, this reminds me of the “great cookie experiment” that’s used to promote interest in nursing research. Could you ever imagine medical students being subjected to this? What’s the “dumbing down”, anti-itellectualism that’s perpetuated amongst nurses all about? I’ve never felt a kinship with most of the floor nurses I’ve worked with.

    Thx, Lisa


    1. Ah yes, the great cookie ‘nursing research’ experiment! Someone at our school did a Hershey’s Kiss spin on that one. Dumbing down of nursing–as in we nurses are our own worst enemies. Though I do see a lot of reason to hope for positive change in the newer nurses coming along.


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