International Nurses Day

Written by: Sally Humphreys, Chair of the Forum Research Management Working Group

May 12th, International Nurses Day, offers us all an opportunity to reflect on the valuable contribution that nurses bring to the research community and thank them for their continued dedication, commitment and hard work.  First declared in January 1974, and now celebrated annually around the world International Nurses Day commemorates the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.

Originally portrayed by the Times Newspaper as ‘the Lady of the Lamp1,  Florence Nightingale was a systemic thinker, a passionate statistician and social reformist who is widely considered the founder of modern nursing. As an innovative healthcare research methodologist, she believed that not only was it necessary to collect scientific data but that the data collection tools used should be valid and reliable and once analysed the data findings should be appropriately communicated, comprehensible to both lay and professional people.

Florence Nightingale was also a pioneer in the graphical representation of data.  At a time when research reports were only beginning to include tabular data, Florence Nightingale used polar-area diagrams where the statistic being represented is proportional to the area of the wedge in a circular diagram2.  The precise organisation of Nightingale’s chart allowed her to represent complex information layered in a single space.

Persuading people of the need for change, Florence Nightingale used her graphics as visual tools to convey the information that deaths were preventable if sanitation reforms were implemented in military and civilian hospitals.  Working across care settings and organisational boundaries, she revolutionised the idea that social phenomena could be objectively measured and conveyed a call to action.

Fast forward to 2018 and what has changed? Florence Nightingale’s statistical innovations and social reforms remain as important today as they were in the mid-nineteenth century.  Nurses no longer carry lamps or wear capes but they remain vital to the research community. Not only do nurses involved in research provide and deliver high quality patient care, they collect robust research data using valid and reliable tools, undertake quantitative and qualitative data analysis, collaborate extensively with international colleagues and are research leaders and change agents in their own right.

In 1860, Florence Nightingale established the first professional training school for nurses, the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’ Hospital. Nurses today are highly trained, well-educated, critical thinkers enabling them to make complex decisions which in Nightingale’s era would almost certainly have been made by a physician.  Committed to evidence based practice, nursing has evolved into the most trusted profession in Britain with 94% of people believing that nurses tell the truth3.

Nurses working in research have important, diverse skills which enable them to clearly articulate the risks and benefits to those considering participating in research, supporting individuals, families and communities throughout their research journey.  It is a fantastic and privileged job that is not always understood. A clinical research nurse’s role extends beyond identifying and recruiting research participants to education, leadership and management.  Nurses develop, maintain and build multi-disciplinary teams to create a clinical research culture that is both patient and public focused.  They act as experts on Research Ethics Committees to protect the interests of research participants whilst at the same time facilitating ethical research and increasingly manage research and innovation departments and associated financial budgets.  Nurses work as trial managers, research facilitators, monitors, coordinators and nurse researchers, providing expertise and skills across the whole life cycle of the research process.  Many teach in academic settings, write competitive grant applications and research reports for professional journals and publications. They also disseminate research findings at conferences and meetings.

As the NHS marks its 70thbirthday, it is time to celebrate the vital diverse contribution that nurses have made to its success, and how the profession has evolved since Florence Nightingale’s era. Celebrating International Nurses Day is a wonderful way to honour the invaluable work that nurses past and present have and continue to contribute to the research community, to highlight their dynamic role and say two very simple words, ‘thank you’.

  1. National Army Museum Florence Nightingale Lady of the Lamp 06/05/2018
  2. Friendly M (2008) The Golden Age of Statistical Graphics Statistical Science23 (4) 502-535
  3. Ipsos Mori (2017) Veracity Index 2017: Ipsos Mori

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