Florence Nightingale, the founder and progenitor of the modern nursing profession, lit a spark several centuries ago that burns within millions of nurses to this day.

The lamp that she literally — or metaphorically — lit during the Crimean War continues to illuminate nurses’ paths forward, and her legacy is one that strengthens with age as her offspring continue to advance the profession. And in difficult times such as the current coronavirus pandemic, nurses fight the good fight around the clock.

The International Year of the Nurse and Midwife

May 2020 marks the 200th anniversary of Nightingale’s birth, and many around the world – nurses and non-nurses alike — celebrate this occasion. In its wisdom, the World Health Organization (WHO) chose in late 2019 to declare 2020 The International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, and this momentous passage is being recognized by myriad individuals and organizations. The WHO made its case eloquently and clearly:

“Nurses and midwives play a vital role in providing health services. These are the people who devote their lives to caring for mothers and children; giving lifesaving immunizations and health advice; looking after older people and generally meeting everyday essential health needs. They are often, the first and only point of care in their communities. The world needs 9 million more nurses and midwives if it is to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.

“That’s why the World Health Assembly has designated 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

“Join WHO and partners including, the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), International Council of Nurses (ICN), Nursing Now and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in a year-long effort to celebrate the work of nurses and midwives, highlight the challenging conditions they often face, and advocate for increased investments in the nursing and midwifery workforce.”

Who could not join in honoring nurses, the most trusted professionals in the United States year after year in the Gallup Poll? They are the very connective tissue of the healthcare system, and the Gallup organization reported the following in January 2020:

“For the 18th year in a row, Americans rate the honesty and ethics of nurses highest among a list of professions that Gallup asks U.S. adults to assess annually. Currently, 85% of Americans say nurses' honesty and ethical standards are 'very high' or 'high,' essentially unchanged from the 84% who said the same in 2018. Alternatively, Americans hold car salespeople in the lowest esteem, with 9% saying individuals in this field have high levels of ethics and honesty, similar to the 8% who said the same in 2018.”

Florence Nightingale’s innovative work in hygiene, sanitation, infection control, the nursing process, and biostatistics continues to reverberate throughout the global community, and her initial spark never seems to diminish.

Are nurses valuable? The jury has indeed spoken multiple times, and the verdict is clear. And when we stop to witness the tremendous courage of nurses on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, there can be no doubt as to their incalculable value.

Nightingale’s Progeny

Florence Nightingale’s progeny are clinicians who work in ICUs and ERs; ambulatory care centers; medical offices; schools, universities, and colleges; public health offices; homecare and hospice agencies; and myriad facilities housing the elderly, infirm, and disabled. They may be vocational/practical nurses; nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses (APRNs); nurses with ADNs or BSNs; or hold any number of master’s-level, Ph.D., or DNP designations.

Nonclinical nurses are just as crucial, and they can include researchers, educators, administrators, legal nurse consultants, expert witnesses, and other roles that often go unsung. Several even serve in Congress and state legislatures here in the United States.

A plethora of often unacknowledged nurse entrepreneurs also make their contributions, including inventors, writers, bloggers, podcasters, keynote speakers, coaches, and consultants.

Florence Nightingale would no doubt be exceedingly proud of the profession that nursing has become. She would be thrilled at the increased autonomy of nursing practice; and the depth and breadth of our individual and collective accomplishments. And if nurses can learn to use their voices and gain more personal agency and power as informed citizens and advocates, their power would be incalculable.

Nightingale’s original spark has gained significant fuel over the last two centuries, and it now burns as a beacon to all who see the profession for what it truly is. As Nurses Week 2020 comes and goes, we pause to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Nightingale’s birth and the yearlong celebration declared by the WHO.

The talented progeny of Nightingale are legion, and their central role in the maintenance of the health and well-being of most every citizen on this beautiful yet troubled planet of ours is irrefutable. Here’s to those trusted, courageous, and brilliant humans who always show up when duty calls, and always will.