Florence Nightingale’s environmental theory of nursing has one core principle: that nursing is the act of utilizing the environment of the patient in order to assist that patient in their recovery. Nightingale’s proposal is simple. By configuring the environment of a patient so that it best meets their needs at that moment, it would assist in the healing process.
Nightingale believed that there were many natural elements that could help a patient begin to have their health restored. Nursing, she proposed, was more than just emotionally caring for a patient, following doctor’s orders, or meeting physical needs. By adding light, warmth, fresh air, quietness, and cleanliness to the environment in a proper order, then along with meeting nutritional needs, a patient could “unmake what God had made disease to be.”
How Nightingale Believed Disease Would Form
Florence Nightingale didn’t use her environmental theory of nursing to create definitions of who was a patient or a human being. She didn’t even attempt to define what “good health” would actually be. Nightingale even said that medical practitioners know nothing of health except for when it is either positive or negative. She simply believed that nurses could make environmental modifications to help eliminate the promotion of internal disease.
This meant that Nightingale believed that people who did not take care of their personal environments properly would be more susceptible to disease. Here are some examples of this from her environmental theory of nursing.
- Home Ventilation. Nightingale believed that people who repeatedly breathed their own air, without any new fresh air coming into a home, would eventually become sick and then remain that way. She believed that the exposure to foul odors would create “noxious air” that would need to be removed for the healing process to begin.
- Temperature. Nightingale also believed that a home should not be too warm or too cold. If there was a temperature imbalance, then there was a greater risk of becoming ill due to being too warm or too cold.
- Light. Nightingale often believed that one of the best things a patient could be given was direct access to sunlight.
- Noise. Nightingale also believed that sleep had an intensely powerful healing effect on the body. She believed that nurses should never wake up people intentionally or even accidentally during the first part of sleep. Any unnecessary noise was considered to be a cruel and unusual punishment to a patient.
Florence Nightingale also believed that variety was important to the healing process. By bringing in fresh flowers, changing uniform colors, or rotating the artwork in a room, it could stimulate the senses of the patient. This stimulation could then encourage the body to continue healing.
Personal Cleanliness and the Environmental Theory of Nursing
Nightingale recognized that patients who had to remain in bed would exhale a lot of moisture thorough their skin and lungs every day. These organic deposits would then stay on the sheets and other bedding, negatively affecting the environment. Unless the bedding was changed and aired-out frequently, it could become difficult for a patient to recover.
Nightingale also believed that a patient’s bed was their own domain. She encouraged nurses to never lean or sit on a bed.
Personal cleanliness didn’t apply just to the environment of the patient. Nightingale also stressed that nurses should also focus on improving their own personal cleanliness. She encouraged nurses to wash their hands frequently throughout the day as a way to fend of illness. She believed that if nurses could keep their skin free from “obstructing excretions,” then they could maintain their good health.
Social Considerations and the Environmental Theory of Nursing
Florence Nightingale also believed that nurses could encourage or discourage the healing process based on their interactions with a patient. She believed that nurses who attempted to falsely cheer up a patient were not creating an appropriate environment. Instead of joking about the illness or offering fake platitudes, she suggested that patients should be exposed to good news. Good news, she proposed, could assist a patient in becoming healthier.
Nightingale also encouraged nurses to look at the importance of a patient’s social networks. Having close family or friends near to the patient, although it could sometimes be a hindrance, would ultimately improve the environment for the patient. Since the goal of nursing was to eradicate an illness, she believed that nurses should heed what was being said by visitors and encourage positive interactions.
Florence Nightingale’s environmental theory of nursing is a theory that focuses on patient care. By individualizing each environment, healing could be created and deeper relationships between the patient and nurse could form. In this way, the best care possible could be provided.