Theory of Florence Nightingale

Nursing theories

open access articles on Nursing theories and models

Theory of Florence Nightingale

The goal of nursing is “to put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him”. - Nightingale


  • Born - 12 May 1820
  • Founder of mordern nursing.
  • The first nursing theorist.
  • Also known as "The Lady with the Lamp" 
  • She explained her environmental theory in her famous book Notes on Nursing: What it is, What it is not .
  • She was the first to propose nursing required specific education and training.
  • Her contribution during Crimean war is well-known.
  • She was a statistician, using bar and pie charts, highlighting key points.
  • International Nurses Day, May 12 is observed in respect to her contribution to Nursing.
  • Died - 13 August 1910

Assumpations of Nightingale's Theory

  • Natural laws
  • Mankind can achieve perfection
  • Nursing is a calling
  • Nursing is an art and a science
  • Nursing is achieved through environmental alteration
  • Nursing requires a specific educational base
  • Nursing is distinct and separate from medicine

Nightingale’s Canons: Major Concepts

  1. Ventilation and warming
  2. Light, Noise
  3. Cleanliness of rooms/walls
  4. Health of houses
  5. Bed and bedding
  6. Personal cleanliness
  7. Variety
  8. Chattering hopes and advices
  9. Taking food.  What food?
  10. Petty management/observation

Nursing Paradigms

  • Nightingale's documents contain her philosophical assumptions and beliefs regarding all elements found in the metaparadigm of nursing.  These can be formed into a conceptual model that has great utility in the practice setting and offers a framework for research conceptualization. (Selanders LC, 2010)
  • Nursing is different from medicine and the goal of nursing is to place the patient  in the best possible condition for nature to act.
  • Nursing is the "activities that promote health (as outlined in canons) which occur in any caregiving situation.  They can be done by anyone."
  • People are multidimensional, composed of biological, psychological, social and spiritual components.
  • Health is “not only to be well, but to be able to use well every power we have”.
  • Disease is considered as dys-ease or the absence of comfort. 
  • "Poor or difficult environments led to poor health and disease".
  • "Environment could be altered to improve conditions so that the natural laws would allow healing to occur."

Nightingale's Theory and Nursing Practice

Application of Nightingale's theory in practice:
  • "Patients are to be put in the best condition for nature to act on them, it is the responsibility of nurses to reduce noise, to relieve patients’ anxieties, and to help them sleep."
  • As per most of the nursing theories, environmental adaptation remains the basis of holistic nursing care.


  • She emphasized subservience to doctors.
  • She focused more on physical factors than on psychological needs of patient.


  • Florence Nightingale provided a professional model for nursing organization.
  • She was the first to use a theoretical founation to nursing.
  • Her thoghts have influenced nursing significantly.


  1. Nightingale, F. Notes on nursing: What it is and what it is not. 1860.
  2. Works by Florence Nightingale at Project Gutenberg
  3. Selanders LC. The power of environmental adaptation: Florence Nightingale's original theory for nursing practice. .J Holist Nurs. 2010 Mar; 28(1):81-8
This page was last updated on: 29/11/2020