Dear Florence,

I first encountered your passion for nursing when I was in school. Beyond your writings and publications, your life story and your tenacity informed much of my career. Even when people did not listen, you persisted. Today, if you walked among us, you would be referenced to as that lady — the woman who does not walk the straight and narrow, the one who does not just say: “Well, that is how we always do things.” Your data-fueled advocacy and willingness to speak truth to power were just as important as the hands-on-care you provided.

Today, nurses are facing challenging times, with some scenes you would recognize from your time as a nurse on the battlefields of the Crimean War. Just as you did, nurses are using data to demand change to ensure their own safety and that of their communities. I am sure you would congratulate them, and be among them, as they seek a better way to work and to care for people in so much need.

Florence, like you I am a teacher. I am a teacher of this next generation of nurses. My students are all working nurses who have decided to go back to school to learn more. Most of my students are on the front lines of the COVID-19 response in Northern New Jersey and New York City. Because of this outbreak, their studies have been curtailed, but not stopped.

They are sharing their stories with me when we meet via phone and internet calls. While they are frightened, they are not backing down from the unknown. They are looking at ways to be safer, to do better—in the same fighting spirit that you had. They are reviewing the research about this new pandemic to inform their practice. They are demanding protections that are in short supply. But they are not leaving the bedside.

Florence, you birthed a movement that supported nurses to use knowledge and data to inform their work. You moved nursing from just a task to a profession. We are grateful for your tenacity to effect change, and hope that spirit carries us forward.

Thank you. Your light still shines.

Suzanne Willard, PhD, APN, FAAN
Associate Dean, Global Health
Clinical Professor, School of Nursing
Rutgers University

Dr. Suzanne Willard is the inaugural associate dean of Global Health and a core faculty member of Rutgers Global Health Institute. For more than 25 years, she has worked in the HIV response as a practitioner, program designer, and project leader. She has been recognized both nationally and internationally for her work.

Dear Florence is an online space to spark conversation on the role of nurses in global health. Named for the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, it seeks to advocate for nurses as leaders in the international health sector and encourage discussion on how the global health world can better leverage nurses’ unique connections to the communities they serve.

Dear Florence is written by Susan Michaels-Strasser, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, senior director of human resources for health (HRH) at ICAP, and is a special initiative to commemorate the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

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