They called her "the lady with the lamp." But there is a story beyond that.
Most of us are scared of numbers. But there once lived a woman who used numbers to save the lives of thousands of people.
She started her journey as an ordinary nurse but has made extraordinary contributions to medical treatment.
For the wounded soldiers of the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856, she was almost a saint, a gift from God to treat the wounds and cure them.
She is Florence Nightingale, whom we all know as the lady with the lamp.
Florence had significant contributions that changed the image of the nursing profession. Many also know her as a true advocate for public health.
On her 200th birthday, as we recall the pioneer of healthcare, let us not forget that Florence was also known for the brilliant mind for statistics, who have contributed in solving practical problems by using numbers,.
It is sad that whenever Florence is lauded for her contributions towards humanity, her work as a statistician gets little or no attention, compared to the nursing services. In this article, readers will know about the statistician, on the occasion of her 200th birthday.
The starting point
At the age of nine, Florence used charts and diagrams for keeping records of the quantity and growth of the vegetables she was growing in her garden. Soon after primary schooling,
She was getting regular tuition on science and mathematics from teachers of Cambridge. Her acquaintance with Charles Babbage, a mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, and the man who originated the concept of a digital programmable computer, had major impacts on her life.
This meeting was the beginning of the era of enlightenment for Florence, as her interest in mathematics and numbers got a new direction under his influence.
In addition, Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet – popularly known for introducing statistics in the field of social science, had a great impact on Florence to be passionate about statistics.
In 1851, Florence went to study nursing in Kaiserswerth, Germany. After finishing her school, she joined the Hospital for Gentlewomen in London in 1852.
The Crimean War
The Crimean War was the turning point for Florence as a nurse. She reached there in November 1854 to find the hospital in a dreadful state. It was a cesspool of putrid water, soldiers were lying on their filth, there was no concern about cleanliness or hygiene whatsoever – as a result, more soldiers were dying out of infection than the battlefields. This rattling condition forced Florence to plead the government for a sanitary commission who will control the hygiene matters.
Besides improving healthcare, Florence also initiated a well-maintained registry system so that she could get a clear picture of the overall situation. She started inserting different types of data in tabulation such as injury type, blood group, arrival and discharge time, death records etc. Later, these data became a massive groundwork for Florence to create a movement of implementing proper documentation processes in the healthcare systems.
Aftermath of the war
After returning from war, Florence teamed up with William Farr, then Britain's foremost statistician did an in-depth analysis of the data collected in the first seven months of her Crimea War.
Together they found that unsanitary conditions at the hospitals were leading to more endemic diseases such as typhus, typhoid and cholera making a path towards a high mortality rate. They presented a comparison that more soldiers died in Crimean War from diseases than during the plague of 1665.
The whole analysis was published as a report in 1858 titled "Notes on Matters Affecting Health, Efficiency, and Hospital Administration of the British Army". It was an 850 pages long document containing the data collection, observation and experience. The death rate of the army in peacetime with the civilian rate was so higher that at the end of her book she wrote, "Our soldiers get enlisted to die in barracks".
After that, she started writing to the higher officials about setting up a Royal Commission for military healthcare – where her notes were juxtaposed with other documents for passing this act in the parliament. In the same year, she was elected as the first female member at the Royal Statisticians Society of England.
Pioneer in data visualisation
At a time when womens' education was a despicable notion, the contributions by Florence in nursing and inept mind for statistics put her in a highly esteemed position. But, some people just know how to utilise their talent in absolute best ways. That's why she just did not stop sorting data in columns; she went one step further to make these digits understandable for the people. Florence invented a graphical presentation for visualising data and named it "Coxcomb", which is today known as "Polargraph". It was similar to a pie-chart but more advanced in accumulating multiple variants of data.
The picture above is the polar graph drawn by Florence Nightingale. This is a modern day histogram especially used for showing grouped data.
As you can see, the graph is cut into twelve equal angles, where each slice represents one month of the year revealing the change over time. Here, the coloured wedged depict - blue for the deaths from contagious diseases, such as cholera and typhus; red and black respectively represent the deaths from wounds and all other causes.
A true humanitarian above all boundaries
In 1860, at the National Statistical Congress of London, Florence and William Farr presented a paper on uniform classifications and forms for hospital statistics – which was unanimously accepted in 1862 for practical implementation to adopt a uniform registration process and keeping a statistical list was made mandatory for hospitals worldwide.
She also made significant contributions to improve the sanitation system of our subcontinent stating that contaminated water, overcrowding and poor ventilation were the prime reasons for high mortality rate in India. Her report led to a nationwide campaign, thanks to which the mortality rate declined from 69 to 18 per 1,000 people in India within ten years.
She tried extending the scope of public health into England's census of 1861. But unfortunately that bill didn't pass as her idea was way ahead of her time.
It's because of her inquisitive nature of always looking out for ways to save human lives made her the true torch bearer of reformation in public health and humanity. That is why, even after 110 years of her demise, her accomplishments are remarkably celebrated.
She was a passionate mind with great brilliance who found great joy in serving people. A true pioneer who created the pathway for modern day nursing and inspired millions to accept and respect this noble profession.