Florence Nightingale: Environmental Theory

Get to know the concepts behind Florence Nightingale‘s Environmental Theory in this study guide about nursing theories. Learn about Nightingale’s biography, her career, her works that shaped nursing. Next part is an in-depth discussion about her Environmental Theory, its metaparadigm, major and subconcepts, including its application to nursing practice. 

Biography of Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale (12 May 1820 – 13 August 1910) was a nurse who contributed in developing and shaping the modern nursing practice and has set examples for nurses which are standards for today’s profession. Nightingale is the first nurse theorist well-known for developing the Environmental Theory that revolutionized nursing practices to create sanitary conditions for patients to get care. She is recognized as the founder of modern nursing. During the Crimean War, she tended to wounded soldiers at night and was known as “The Lady with the Lamp.” 

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Early Life

Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820, in Nightingale, Italy. She was the younger of two children. Her British family belonged to elite social circles. Her father, William Shore Nightingale, a wealthy landowner who had inherited two estates—one at Lea Hurst, Derbyshire, and the other in Hampshire, Embley Park—when Nightingale was 5 years old.

Her mother, Frances Nightingale, hailed from a family of merchants and took pride in socializing with people of prominent social standing. Despite her mother’s interest in social climbing, Nightingale herself was reportedly awkward in social situations. She preferred to avoid being the center of attention whenever possible. Strong-willed, Nightingale often butted heads with her mother, whom she viewed as overly controlling. Still, like many daughters, she was eager to please her mother. “I think I am got something more good-natured and complying,” Nightingale wrote in her own defense, concerning the mother-daughter relationship.


Florence Nightingale was raised on the family estate at Lea Hurst, where her father provided her with a classical education, including studies in German, French and Italian. As for being home schooled by her parents and tutors, Nightingale gained excellence in Mathematics.

From a very young age, Nightingale was active in philanthropy, ministering to the ill and poor people in the village neighboring her family’s estate. At seventeen, she made the decision to dedicate her life to medical care for the sick resulting in a lifetime commitment to speak out, educate, overhaul and sanitize the appalling health care conditions in England.

Despite the objections of her parents, Nightingale enrolled as a nursing student in 1844 at the Lutheran Hospital of Pastor Fliedner in Kaiserswerth, Germany.

Personal Life

Nightingale, circa 1858
Nightingale, circa 1858

Only announcing her decision to enter the field in 1844, following her desire to be a nurse was not easy for Florence Nightingale. Her mother and sister were against her chosen career, but Nightingale stood strong and worked hard to learn more about her craft despite the society’s expectation that she become a wife and mother.

As a woman, Nightingale was very attractive and charming that made every man like her. However, she rejected a suitor, Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton, because she feared that entertaining men would interfere the process. The income given to her by her father during this time allowed her to pursue her career and still live comfortably. Though Nightingale had several important friendships with women, including a correspondence with an Irish nun named Sister Mary Clare Moore, she had little respect for women in general, and preferred friendships with powerful men.

Environmental Theory

Florence Nightingale’s Environmental Theory defined Nursing as “the act of utilizing the environment of the patient to assist him in his recovery.”

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