Nursing: No End in Learning
By Florence Nightingale
Unless a nurse improves herself and her nursing abilities everyday, her ability to help her patients will be diminished. There is no end in what a nurse can be learning every day.
For us who Nurse, our Nursing is a thing, which, unless in it we are making progress every year, every month, every week, take my word for it we are going back. The more experience we gain, the more progress we can make. The progress you make in your year’s training with us is as nothing to what you must make every year after your year’s training is over. A woman who thinks in herself: “Now I am a ‘full’ Nurse, a ‘skilled’ Nurse, I have learnt all that there is to be learnt”: take my word for it, she does not know what a Nurse is, and she never will know; she is gone back already. Conceit and Nursing cannot exist in the same person, any more than new patches on an old garment.
No End in Learning
Every year of her service a good Nurse will say: “I learn something every day.” I have had more experience in all countries and in different ways of Hospitals than almost any one ever had before (there were no opportunities for learning in my youth such as you have had); but if I could recover strength so much as to walk about, I would begin all over again. I would come for a year’s training to St. Thomas’ Hospital under your admirable Matron (and I venture to add that she would find me the closest in obedience to all our rules), sure that I should learn every day, learn all the more for my past experience. And then I would try to be learning every day to the last hour of my life. “And when his legs were cuttit off, He fought upon his stumps,” says the ballad; so, when I could no longer learn by nursing others, I would learn by being nursed, by seeing Nurses practise upon me. It is all experience.
Agnes Jones, who died as Matron of the Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary (whom you may have heard of as “Una”), wrote from the Workhouse in the last year of her life: “I mean to stay at this post forty years, God willing; but I must come back to St. Thomas’ as soon as I have a holiday; I shall learn so much more” (she had been a year at St. Thomas’ ) “now that I have more experience.”
Pebbles on the Shore
When I was a child, I remember reading that Sir Isaac Newton, who was, as you know, perhaps the greatest discoverer among the Stars and the Earth’s wonders who ever lived, said in his last hours: “I seem to myself like a child who has been playing with a few pebbles on the sea-shore, leaving unsearched all the wonders of the great Ocean beyond.”
By the side of this put a Nurse leaving her Training School and reckoning up what she has learnt, ending with “The only wonder is that one head can contain it all.” (What a small head it must be then!) I seem to have remembered all through life Sir Isaac Newton’s words. And to nurse that is, under Doctor’s orders, to cure or to prevent sickness and maiming, Surgical and Medical, is a field, a road, of which one may safely say: There is no end in what we may be learning every day.
The High Calling
This is one of the most striking recognitions I know of the fact that I have sometimes heard: “But have we not reason to be conceited, when we compare ourselves to _____ and _____?” (naming, drinking, immoral, careless, dishonest Nurses). I will not think it possible that such things can ever be said among us. Taking it even upon the worldly ground, what woman among us, instead of looking to that which is higher, will of her own accord compare herself with that which is lower with immoral women?
Does not the Apostle say: “I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”; and what higher “calling” can we have than Nursing? But then we must “press forward”; we have indeed not “apprehended” if we have not “apprehended” even so much as this.
There is a little story about “the Pharisee” known over all Christendom. Should Christ come again upon the earth, would He need to apply that parable to us? Progress is always to be made: that grown-up people, even of middle-age, ought always to have their education going on. But only those can learn after middle-age who have gone on learning up to middle-age.
And now, let me say a thing which I am sure must have been in all your minds before this: if, unless we improve every day in our Nursing, we are going back: how much more must it be, that, unless we improve every day in our conduct as Christian women, followers of Him by whose name we call ourselves, we shall be going back? This applies of course to every woman in the world; but it applies more especially to us, because we know no one calling in the world, except it be that of teaching, in which what we can do depends so much upon what we are.
To be a good Nurse one must be a good woman; or one is truly nothing but a tinkling bell. To be a good woman at all, one must be an improving woman; for stagnant waters sooner or later, and stagnant air, as we know ourselves, always grow corrupt and unfit for use. Is any one of us a stagnant woman? Let it not have to be said by any one of us: I left this Home a worse woman than I came into it. I came in with earnest purpose, and now I think of little but my own satisfaction and a good place.
-Nightingale is the Founder of the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London, England.