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Florence Nightingale - My Role Model

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Florence Nightingale came from a wealthy family in Italy and grew up being educated by her father. She later became a nurse who pioneered the profession and changed the way people thought about it as a career for women. Despite her parent’s disapproval, she knew nursing was her calling and dedicated her life to helping those in need. Unlike Florence, I want to be an animal-assisted Therapist and my parents have supported me every step of the way as they know it is my calling. Florence Nightingale loved animals from birth, and she incorporated them into her nursing practices to aid in the comfort of her patients, something I hope to accomplish in my future. In her final years of life, her cats brought her happiness and she found comfort in them when times were tough. Florence saved lives and helped those who were ill find comfort, and I hope to do the same.


Florence Nightingale was born in May of 1820 to a wealthy, upper-class family in Florence, Italy. Florence was the youngest of three girls and described as socially awkward and non-attention seeking (Nightingale & McDonald, 2001). Their parents were liberal humanitarians which led Florence to grow up surrounded by the ideals of respecting and helping those in need and to promote the welfare of other human beings. Florence got her education at home from her father, was well versed in French, German, and Italian, and learned about the world from his perspective (New York Times, 1910). It was when a family friend, Mary Clarke, showed Florence that women and men could be equals that she began to form her own ideas about the power of women.

I was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1999 to an upper-class family. I am an only child and would not have wanted to grow up with siblings. I am independent and shy in social situations, always looking to avoid being the center of attention. I went to public school in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and am currently, 2019, an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire majoring in Psychology with a minor in animal behavior.

Throughout her early life, Florence was an active philanthropist and looked to help the sick and poor in her village. At the age of seventeen, on one of her trips to town, she saw a neighbor’s dog with a bruised paw struggling to walk after a group of young boys had thrown rocks at him (Coren, 2010). The owner was a Shepard and would have to kill the dog if he was too injured to herd the sheep. Florence felt very upset by the idea of the dog getting killed and tended to the dog’s leg, saving his life. This sheepdog was the first patient she ever saved and the feeling she was left with led to her realization that helping others was her calling.

For most of my early life, I was shy and always described by my mom as an ‘observer’ of most social situations, but it never seemed to hold me back. It was not until high school that my social anxiety disorder became apparent. Getting out of bed to face every day became increasingly difficult as my freshman year went on and I would fight with my parents constantly to allow me to drop out of school. I began going to therapy and soon, my outlook on life changed and I began actively working on myself to take control of my own life and my anxiety. After three long years of fighting with myself, I found confidence and a strength I never knew I had within me and was finally in control. In my senior year of high school, I looked back on my experience and knew I could not be the only person who struggled and felt lost in their anxiety. I decided to write a book, ‘Creating Happy: How I survived high school with social anxiety disorder,’ in hopes of helping at least one person who was struggling like I was. It was in writing the book that I discovered my calling for mental health awareness and desire to help those struggling with mental illness.

Florence’s family believed that a woman should stay at home to be a wife and mother and that her husband should work to support the family, so when Florence announced her decision to become a nurse, they were enraged. In her act of rebellion to her family’s rules and social norms, Florence educated herself on all aspects of nursing. In 1847, Florence traveled across Europe to further educate herself on nursing and to connect with prominent figures in the field. When in Germany, she worked with a pastor who was helping the sick and poor and received four months of medical training at the Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine for the Practical Training of Deaconesses. This training became the framework for her future career. In July of 1950, she volunteered in German and French hospitals and in 1853 she became the manager in the Institute of the Sick Women in London.

Florence Nightingale is most applauded for her work in the Crimean War. In 1854, she trained thirty-eight nurses and fifteen nuns who would travel with her to work in a British base hospital to tend to the wounded. Florence worked to improve unsanitary conditions at the base and created a clean environment, provided medical equipment, clean water, and fruit to patients. Her work significantly decreased the mortality rate at the base (Karimi & Masoudi Alavi, 2015).

Florence had never married, or had an interest to, because she felt it would interfere with her work (Nightingale & McDonald, 2001). At the age of thirty-eight, Florence was bedridden for the remainder of her life due to her inability to fully recover from Crimean Fever that she contracted while working. Despite being bedridden, Florence continued to make immense accomplishments. In 1860, she established the Nightingale Nursing School, becoming the first nursing school in the world and changed the view of nursing as a profession. She continued to write from home, describing writing as her ‘lifeblood’.

When I graduate from college, I hope to pursue a career in Animal-Assisted Therapy. Unlike Florence, my parents recognize this as my calling and are supporting me every step of the way. Having a family is very important to me so I feel lucky to pursue a calling that will allow time for a husband and two kids. I hope to further my education with a master’s degree from Southern New Hampshire University in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. My main goal as a therapist is to help children and adults struggling with anxiety, depression, grief and loss and to use dogs and horses as tools to aid in the therapeutic process.

Florence Nightingale was an avid animal lover. She often saved injured animals and even carried a hurt owl she found with her during her travels in Europe until he passed away. In Nightingale’s book Notes on Nursing, (1860) she discusses how animals have helped in the healing process of her patients; ‘A small pet is often an excellent companion for the sick or long chronic cases, especially’. In her childhood, Florence was surrounded by dogs, horses, cats, and birds and her mom said that she ‘always had a passion for almost any kind of creature’ (Schiller, 2008, para. 2). During her work at the British base hospital, she used cats to help with the rat problem, adding to the change towards sanitary conditions. In a letter to her mom, she wrote: ‘Poor Mrs. Herbert told me that her chief comfort was a little Chinese dog…which used to come and kiss her eyelids and lick tears from her cheeks. I remember thinking this childish. But now I don’t. My cat does just the same to me. Dumb beasts observe you so much more than talking beings; and know so much better, what you are thinking of.’ 

When she became bedridden, she lived at home surrounded by her multitude of cats. As her health dwindled towards the end of her life, she suffered from depression and her cats became her highest joy in life. She felt that her cats possessed more empathy than most human beings and during her most difficult times, she found comfort in having her cats around. She is quoted in a letter as saying that when her cousin died, her cat knew something was wrong and sat with his “legs around her neck” (Woodham-Smith, 1953, p. 285).

Florence Nightingale became an invalid who rarely left her room at the end of her life and passed away from her sickness in August of 1910 in London. In her life, she was a nurse, author, educator, inventor, and philanthropist and was the first woman to receive the Order of Merit. Her work changed 19th and 20th-century policies around proper care in nursing and she was the inspiration for Dorthea Dix, the Geneva Convention, and the Red Cross. Florence permanently changed the relationship between government and public health across the globe (Boyd, 2008).

Florence dedicated her life to taking care of the sick and wounded and wrote about the importance of building trusting relationships with patients, having empathy towards patients, and doing everything you can to make a patient happy and feel that you have their best interest in mind. In my future, I hope to use her ideas in my work to create a positive patient-therapist environment. Florence’s notes played a role in the creation of animal-assisted therapy, writing about experiences with patients and with herself. She observed that animals reduced anxiety in patients and helped them recover overall, leading to animal-assisted therapy becoming a treatment for anxiety. The animals can provide a distraction to the treatments the patient is undergoing or as a comfort to a patient living in a hospital which may not feel like home (Snelling, 2013).

Florence inspires me to be a more empathetic person, to think of my future patients’ best interest, and to implement her ideas about animals into my therapy practice. Like Florence, I hope to stand up for what I believe in and always follow my dreams, or callings. In my future career, if I can change just a fraction of the lives she did, I will consider myself successful.


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