lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info, extraordinary women, my books!

N is for Florence Nightingale, Nurse, #AtoZ Challenge

Florence Nightingale

This special entry is by one of my fellow authors of my new book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls – the wonderful and talented Jan Dean!


Florence Nightingale is famous for being the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ – the woman who organised the nursing of sick and wounded soldiers during the Crimean War, where she ran the hospital in the Scutari Barracks.

Her greatest achievement was to transform nursing into a respectable profession for women and in 1860, she established the first professional training school for nurses, the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’ Hospital.

Florence’s influence today includes:

  • ward designs (known as Nightingale Wards), which she developed when she realised that hospital buildings themselves could affect the health and recovery of patients
  • infection control measures
  • the championing of a healthy diet as a key factor for recovery.
  • specialist midwifery nurses – she established a School of Midwifery nursing at King’s College Hospital which became a model for the country.

Nightingale is also credited with inventing the pie chart and was the first woman to be elected to the Royal Statistical Society. She was also the first woman to be awarded the Freedom of the City of London, which she received in 1909.

She inspired the founding of the International Red Cross which still awards the Florence Nightingale Medal for nurses who have given exceptional care to the sick and wounded in war or peace.


Miss Nightingale’s War


she did not sit and mop a fevered brow

she was not gentle by a bedside

she was about the numbers

the running total of the dead

who never should have died


it wasn’t cannon fire that killed them

not bayonets or bullets

but infection

gangrene devoured them

and Nightingale was powerless to stop it


the enemy was filth

the squalor of the wards

the soldiers stretchered-in alive with lice

their uniforms a mass of blood and dirt

no towels         no washbowls


think now of one slow-motion bullet

singing through the air at Balaclava

making for the shoulder of a young enlisted man –

it hits the woollen fabric of his coat

cuts through it to his cambric shirt


from shirt it shoots through saltsweat skin

to muscle ligament and bone

speeds out again  (a through-and-through)

into the howling of the battlefield

to fall into the mud –


the hole will heal          the shoulder mend

but still that bullet carried death

it took the fibres of his foul-stained clothes

and pushed them deep inside his flesh

and there they brewed and bred bacteria


she knew she fought a losing battle

a woman nursing in Scutari Barracks

would drown in drudgery

be lost for want of bandages and fresh washed bedding

so she collected evidence


she took the numbers of the dead

and made a fist of them to punch the army with

she was not tender     was not nice

she was a force          who loved the desperate

and saved them with the sharp blade of statistics


© Jan Dean


If you’d like to read about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!



The Florence Nightingale Museum

(Which you can visit opposite the Houses of Parliament in London)

St Thomas’ Hospital
2 Lambeth Palace Road
T: +44 (0)20 7188 4400


  1. She was an amazing woman who would make sure heads would roll in the hospital I live near. The way they clean is not the way it should be done. I had heard that in the last years of her life…actually 40 years, she was actually a recluse. I think I heard that from “and here’s the rest of the story”….great poem and got to what she looked after


    • Wasn’t she just. Jan’s poem, is as always, wonderful.


  2. Such inspiring women! I like your series a lot.


  3. Thank you for reminding me of her life, and expanding on my knowledge.

    Affirmations for a Good Life


    • I think we all forget details – it’s great to be reminded, sometimes!


  4. A delightful tribute to an amazing person.Thank you.

    Another day in Amble Bay!


  5. She was clearly very determined to make changes and she definitely did that. Amazing woman.


    • Yes – not your normal nurse, no bedside manner, but clear-sighted, and determined.


  6. And she was born in Florence, Italy! Just one of those useful things for quiz questions 🙂

    Thanks, Liz – I\m way behind on your posts, I’ll be taking them in at leisure later in the year the way I’m going at present.



    • Ha! I have only done posts this year, barely any poems. Just too busy, recently. And I’m finding this way of doing the A-z just very inconvenient.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great poem. I like how it takes the stereotypes of nursing head on.


  8. Pikakshi

    Florence Nightingale really was a pillar of humanity and inspiration to people throughout the world. Im glad to have read your post and the poem, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Kindly convey my warm regards and best wishes to your friend Jan.

    Night Reads — Yay or Nay!

    Readers of the Night


  9. Pikakshi

    The link in the previous comment didn’t seem to work! So here we go.
    Night Reads — Yay or Nay!


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