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Just call us Florence Nightingale’s biggest fans
Our collection of memorabilia reminds us of her timeless impact
Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN, is OnCourse Learning’s executive vice president and chief clinical executive, and founder and CEO of the Forum for Shared Governance. 
Yet another Nurses Week has rolled in, and will end on Florence Nightingale’s birthday. I look at her every day. Her portrait as a young woman hangs on my study wall, mounted alongside one of the two letters of hers that I own. As I work away, the thought of her is never far from me.
She wrote thousands of epistles, some of them seemingly trivial, for example, mine. One letter is a one-sentence request to allow someone to visit a patient in a hospital. My other letter asks a friend to stop by and see her. For me, the content doesn’t matter: It’s knowing that Florence Nightingale wrote these letters. They are iconic, like her. She put her hand to these papers, and in this way, she left so many pieces of herself in her wake. And although she wrote many in pencil, mine are in ink. In the past, part of my day job with OnCourse Learning was purchasing historic nursing letters and memorabilia for the company collection. How cool a job is that? The inventory contains letters from Clara Barton, Edith Cavell, Walt Whitman and Dorethea Dix. It also includes nine Nightingale missives, including seven- and 12-page letters that addressed contemporary, but enduring, issues from her time.  Our repository also contains autographed books, original newspaper and magazine articles, pamphlets and collectables, including syringes, breast pumps, medals, a matron belt from St. Thomas Hospital of London, a bracelet stethoscope, a few nursing cases with instruments and an original linen candle lamp. We even have busts and a very large portrait of Florence. Florence Nightingale was alive for me long before I started to purchase nursing items for my employer. I was in charge of putting together about 60 study tours and cruises for nurses. I didn’t go on all of them, but I led a few, including the Nursing Spectrum Nightingale Tour to England, which carried about 75 nurses to a small country church graveyard, where Florence is buried.  Later on, our first tour to Italy naturally included a visit to a small country house, now a convent, in Florence where Florence Nightingale was born, witnessing her locales from cradle to grave. Apologetically, we no longer have these study tours. We had a loyal clientele, and I know you’re still out there and miss you.
Access original letters written by Nightingale
Download Letter 1
Download Letter 2
Not too long ago, I attended a conference where we exhibited our two long Nightingale letters in secured display cases. Some nurses openly wept to see the actual letters of our founder.  My colleague, Monica Lozaga, MSN-Ed, RN, CCRN, CNRN, director of organizational education services at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, Pa., personalized Nightingale’s worth, stating, “She is the first nurse to collect data and to use the scientific method to improve care. She proved that a clean environment, sunlight and nutritious food are key to healing. I love Florence! When my workday is challenging, I pull out my copy of ‘Notes on Nursing’ and remember why I do this!” Imagine that? Still relevant after all these years. Some people refer to Florence as “Flo.” Some nursing colleagues in the company and I have never liked that. It’s not that we think the label is intentionally disrespectful, but when it comes to Florence Nightingale and the thought of her, it just doesn’t fit. Many of us take a long view of nursing history, and “Flo” just doesn’t suit an icon. So, in this year of 198 AF (After the birth of Florence), happy birthday, Nurse Nightingale, and happy Nurses Week, nursing colleagues.
By Robert G. Hess Jr., 
Our Nightingale treasures

Her nursing legacy lives on

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