Florence Nightingale’s Environmental Theory

Words: 836
Topic: Health & Medicine

Nursing theory and practice has changed tremendously since the inception of nursing as a profession. The changes often occur under the auspices of nursing theories and models, which have been posited by various nursing professionals over the years. Despite all the existing nursing theories and models having contributed to the nursing profession in various ways, some of them are outstanding.

For instance, Florence Nightingale’s Environmental Theory was a pioneering theory, but it has persistently defied the test of time to remain at the heart of the nursing profession. Its tenets remain pertinent to the nursing profession over a century and a half later (Lee, Clark & Thompson, 2013). In the light of this background, this essay explores Florence Nightingale’s Environmental Theory in an attempt to demonstrate its timelessness insofar as its relevance to the nursing profession is concerned.

The Theory and its Founder

As already noted, this discourse explores the Environmental Theory, which was posited by Florence Nightingale (Hegge, 2013). Nightingale had a background of statistical knowledge, which she used to establish a correlation between heightened mortality rates among British soldiers and the environmental conditions that prevailed during the Crimean war.

Her suspicion was aroused by the high mortality rates because interestingly, Britain was losing more soldiers to illnesses than to the battle they had gone to fight. After altering various elements of the environment in the locations where she cared for her patients, her suspicion that poor environmental conditions and poor hygiene were the reasons behind the poor patient outcomes were confirmed (Stanley, 2007). Nightingale thus developed the Environmental Theory based on her research during this war.

The Environmental Theory

The prime idea behind the Environmental Theory is that the condition of the environment in which a patient is treated coupled with the hygiene of the patient influence the outcome of any treatment accorded (Lopez, 2013). A dirty environment increases the possibilities of obtaining negative outcomes while a clean environment increases the possibilities of registering positive outcomes.

of the environment such as ventilation, temperature, lighting, noise, hygiene, and food should be kept at their best when caring for a patient (Stanley, 2007). The personal hygiene of the patient also needs to be kept at the highest possible level.

In addition to the core concepts outlined above, the Environmental Theory makes the following assumptions. That nurses understand natural laws and that mankind can achieve perfection. That in addition to being a calling, nursing is both an art and a science and is practiced by altering the elements of the environment. Finally, it assumes that nursing requires a specific educational foundation, which distinguishes it from medicine (Hegge, 2013).

Why the Environmental Theory

The Environmental Theory is the focus of this essay because it stands out among other nursing theories as well as the foundation of the nursing profession. Despite being in use since the recognition of nursing as a profession, this theory has never lost its pertinence. The importance of some of its tenets has been increasing with the broadening of the nursing profession (Lee, Clark & Thompson, 2013). Consequently, the theory is considered timeless because it remains at the core of the nursing profession and there is no indication that its importance will wane in the foreseeable future.

Applicability of the Environmental Theory to Nursing Practice

Florence Nightingale was the first nurse to apply this theory to her practice. The outcome was commendable, leading to her recognition as a nurse leader across the world. Consequently, the principles of this theory continue to guide nursing practice to date.

It remains standard practice for nurses to ensure that patients are cared for in clean environments and that patients should maintain a high personal hygiene as well. Activities such as sterilizing hospital equipment and environments may be considered modern because they employ modern technology. However, contrary to this notion, these practices trace their roots back to the days of Florence Nightingale.

As an individual, I cannot envisage nursing practice without the principles of the Environmental Theory. Almost every aspect of nursing practice relies on these principles. High hygiene levels, patient comfort, and good food are just a few of the key areas that Nightingale underscored in her theory and remain as critical to modern nursing practice as they were in the days of Nightingale (Gourlay, 2004).

During my practice, I strive to maintain the highest possible levels of hygiene because I know that dirt increases the possibilities of poor outcomes. Additionally, I understand that equipment must be thoroughly cleaned or sterilized to eliminate the possibilities of miscellaneous infections. Therefore, it is apparent that I apply some principles of the Environmental Theory in my practice.


Apparently, standard nursing practice anchors heavily on the Environmental Theory. Thus, the theory stands out as timeless because it has so far defied the test of time and is poised to remain at the heart of the nursing profession for many years to come. Every nurse, if asked, would easily admit that their practice is carried out under the auspices of this theory.


Gourlay, J. (2004). Florence Nightingale: Still lighting the way for nurses. Nursing Management – UK, 11(2), 14-15.

Hegge, M. (2013). Nightingale’s Environmental Theory. Nursing Science Quarterly, 26(3), 211-219. doi:10.1177/0894318413489255

Lee, G., Clark, A. M., & Thompson, D. R. (2013). Florence Nightingale – never more relevant than today. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 69(2), 245-246. doi:10.1111/jan.12021

Lopez, J. L. (2013). Small group mentoring: A method for improving outcomes in foundations of nursing practice. El Paso Community College Teachership Academy. 

Stanley, D. (2007). Lights in the shadows: Florence Nightingale and others who made their mark. Contemporary Nurse: A Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession, 24(1), 45-51.