Potential is only realised with laser-focus and gritty determination.

The little girl knelt on the floor in her nursery bandaging a doll’s arm, comforting the doll and then putting it to bed. Taking another doll, she bandaged its head and likewise put it to bed. The nurse on duty watched the charade with interest and particularly admired the skill of the little girl’s bandaging technique. So began a passion that burned within this young lady, the same of which transformed the understanding of health care quality forever.

The child had been named Florence after the lovely city of her birth, but her childhood was spent chiefly at Embley. One day she came across a shepherd in distress over his dog that had broken its leg – Florence rose to the occasion and bandaged the broken leg efficiently. At the age of eighteen, she went to London and began visiting hospitals and nursing institutes and was dismayed with their lack of organisation and cleanliness. She then travelled abroad to see foreign institutions, finding them better organised than the English ones. After concluding a number of training interventions, she approached the health authorities about the need for change. Her grasp of the necessity for adequate knowledge and the need of discipline amongst hospital employees made its impression of the authorities. England was buzzing with accounts of the deplorable conditions in the military hospital at Scutari during the Crimean War and Miss Nightingale received a letter from the Minister of War, Sydney Herbert, asking her to go to Scutari and organise the hospital service. The letter, interestingly, crossed one from her offering her services.

Florence knew what she wanted – she never indulged wishful or muddled thinking and sentimental “mist”, so what she set her mind to achieve she usually accomplished. This focus and determination were her true greatness – a fact often obscured by the picture created by the title “the Lady of the Lamp”. Not that the picture is one of false sentimentality as it was both beautiful and true – the gracious figure moving, with her lamp shaded carefully, through the hospital wards at night to see for herself that all the patients were treated with the skill, thoroughness and gentleness that she deemed necessary for their welfare. In her presence, each man became an individual, not merely a number in a regiment.

When Florence arrived with a contingent of thirty-seven handpicked nurses, she was faced with shocking conditions – squalor, dirt and overcrowding – the doctors seemingly having neither the energy nor the will to improve anything. They regarded Florence and her team with suspicion and jealousy. She faced an even greater battle in carrying out her task in having to face the open hostility of the officers in command. They viewed the arrival of women in the hospitals as a precedent that must be combated at all costs. Florence set about her mission – the question of supplies was dealt with immediately by ordering a consignment to be sent out at her own expense to enable her to start her mission of mercy and reform. Her determination never to appear as a rebel and always to acquire the necessary authority for her sweeping changes gradually enabled her to obtain not only the consent of the higher command, but whole-hearted co-operation. Her patience, focus and persistence achieved huge upgrades to the facilities and the care that they offered. Within a few weeks, the death rate in the hospitals dropped from approximately 42% to 2%!

Having re-organised health care at the battle front, Miss Nightingale turned her attention to the military hospitals at home. She left Sydney Herbert no peace until her reforms were carried out. So persistent were her demands that the unfortunate Minister of War is said to have died from the overwhelming amount of work forced on him by his indomitable ally, Florence Nightingale. Perhaps there is an element of truth in the accusation. Having carried out her reforms in the military hospitals, she turned her attention to the civilian institutions which also needed drastic improvements. Throughout her life and even when bed-ridden, Florence was able to influence massive changes and improvements. Her laser-focus and gritty determination mark the contribution of “the Lady of the Lamp”.

Free To Grow offers the workshop “EmpowHer” to enable and equip women to reach their potential (www.freetogrow.com)

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