Florence Nightingale was born on 12th May 1820 (and I don’t mean twenty past six), so on Friday she would have been 197 years old. She gained the nickname ‘The Lady with the Lamp’ during the Crimean War where she was credited with saving countless lives (by using mathematics).
Florence was a talented mathematician and a pioneer in the field of statistical graphics. She is credited with developing a form of the pie chart now known as the polar area diagram. This was devised so that civil servants and politicians would be more likely to understand the statistics in her reports rather than just presenting them with a set of numbers. I expect that the Shadow Home Secretary in Britain, Diane Abbott would have preferred using a Polar diagram, rather than making a mess of her numbers last week over the costs of funding extra policing. Abbott’s figures essentially came down to paying each policeman ₤30 a year. In her defence, the numbers did contain a lot of zeros.
Poor hygiene and sanitation in the hospitals in the Crimean War meant that roughly ten times the number of soldiers died in the hospital compared to the battlefield. The polar diagrams in Florence Nightingale’s report titled ‘Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East’ showed this visually and very effectively. She also reported on a similar situation with the British army in India and ultimately this led to Public Health Acts of 1874 and 1875 to ensure adequate sanitation in private houses.
In the nursing fraternity (or is it sorority), Florence Nightingale is remembered through countless awards and statues as well as a nurses’ training school and of course, the Nightingale pledge. This is the Nurses’ equivalent to the Hippocratic Oath and is recited by all newly qualified nurses at their ‘pinning’ ceremony. In her honour, the 12th May is also known as International Nurses Day.
As we move into the exam period for our students, it might be an opportune time to take heed of one of her famous quotes, “I attribute my success to this - I never gave or took any excuse”.
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