“Notes on Nursing” by Florence Nightingale


This reaction paper essentially focuses on giving a succinct analytical reaction to the book Notes on Nursing by Florence Nightingale which was first published in England in 1859 and 1860, in America. In this book, Florence describes nursing in a rather different way from the way people view it today. Nonetheless, she gives insightful hints and pointers for people in the nursing industry—with great emphasis being on women. According to her, nurses can be broadly divided into two categories; professional nurses, those who work in hospitals, and domestic nurses, women taking care of children or invalids at home. Looking at her work today, it may seem like her instructions are things that can be done by anyone with common sense. However, back when it was written, the contents of her book were revolutionary; probably the reason she was the first woman to be awarded the prestigious “Order of Merit” for her contributions through her writings. So, despite having a few questionable and debatable views on the nursing profession, I largely agree and place high regard for Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing. A justification for this standpoint is given and discussed below.

Reactions and Justifications

In giving the reactions and justifications for the reactions to the Notes on Nursing, various thematic areas highlighted in different chapters of the book will be importantly considered and briefly discussed.

To begin with, in the introduction chapter of her book, Nightingale states that “Nursing ought to assist the reparative process [of nature].” She supports this ideology by saying how comprehensive nursing calls not just for nurses to give medicine, but also goes a step ahead and take into account other aspects such as cleanliness, good ventilation, good bedding, good food, proper lighting and ensuring that the patient is not in a noisy environment, among other issues. As is commonly known, things such as clean air and water are greatly dependent on nature, thus delineating the importance of her insights on why nursing should aid the reparative process of nature.

A point that is emphatically stressed in the book is that of cleanliness. This is discussed in the introduction, and on chapters in the book such as ventilation and warming, health of houses, bed and bedding, cleanliness of rooms and walls, observation of the sick, and even the conclusion. In summarizing the important issue of cleanliness in nursing, Nightingale states in chapter two that the health of houses and patients in hospitals revolve around the availability of pure water, pure air, light, cleanliness and efficient drainage, all which work concurrently. This viewpoint is supported by many modern and classical medical journals which indicate that, besides dietary issues, the above 5 essential points greatly contribute to one’s health.

It is also important to take note that, in the Notes on Nursing, both domestic servants (nurses) and professional nurses are considered complementary and mutually reinforcing to one another. By taking good care of patients at home, domestic nurses help in keeping these patients healthy thus avoiding unnecessary trips to the hospitals to visit professional nurses. In the same vein, expert healthcare provision by professional nurses limits the frequency of getting sick at home thus overburdening the domestic servants.

However, unlike is believed by most people that nursing can only be provided by adults, statistics compounded from various scholarly quarters indicated that many domestic nurses were aged between five and twenty years old. Her argument to support those as young as five years old being capable of nursing was that a five-year-old can easily follow any instruction given to her. This argument has often been proved even in modern times where young children can easily go to buy medication, nurse injuries or even open and close windows.

Despite the above arguments, Nightingale was quick to offer a rejoinder to the above point by saying that getting some form of training in nursing is important, whether you are a domestic servant or a professional nurse. This is because issues such as differentiating different medicine, knowing the best lighting in a room, nursing some injuries (like in first aid at home) call for proper know-how.

Finally, as is commonly stated that “prevention is better than cure”, the book greatly stresses on the importance of preventive medicine rather than waiting to get sick then one starts looking for curative remedies. It is in fact based on this point that she involves and encourages women in England, and the world at large, to be more aggressive as domestic servants. By providing or offering good health care at home, many of the diseases that lead people to hospitals are greatly curbed.


Even though many issues that have been highlighted by Florence Nightingale are things that many people, me included, can easily identify with, caution should be taken when following the hints in her book. For instance, leaving a five year old to take care of someone very ill at home can be very risky in instances such as patients having contagious diseases. If we take such precautions, while keeping an open mind, through the book we can greatly improve nursing in our homes and even in hospitals.