Environmental theory of Florence Nightingale

In honor of Nurses Week, we take a look at Florence Nightingale — her trailblazing work, her theory, and her complicated legacy.

This story was published in the Spring-Summer 2024 issue of The Washington Nurse.

23 Environmental theory of Florence Nightingale

Who is Florence Nightingale?

Florence Nightingale is considered the founder of modern nursing. Called “the lady with the lamp,” she was an English social reformer, statistician, teacher, and revolutionary, championing the cause of healthcare reform for all.

Her work in statistics, including the use of infographics, was viewed as pioneering at the time, and her analytical methods are still used today.

She came to prominence during the Crimean War (October 1853–February 1856) and founded the nursing school at St. Thomas Hospital in London in 1860—the first secular (nonreligious) nursing school in the world. As a result of her trailblazing work, International Nurses Day is celebrated on May 12 (her birthday), and the Nightingale Pledge is taken by many new nurses.

In more recent years, knowledge of her support of white supremacy and British colonialism has complicated her legacy.

On July 30, 1890, she made a minute-long voice recording, “When I am no longer a memory—just a name—I hope my voice may perpetuate the great work of my life. …” The voice recording can be heard online.

What is Nightingale’s Environmental Theory?

Nightingale’s Environmental Theory is based on 10 major concepts: ventilation and warming, light and noise, cleanliness of the area, health of houses, bed and bedding, personal cleanliness, variety, food, offering hope and advice, and observation.

By adjusting these factors to fit individual patient needs, the nurse creates an optimal environment for the patient’s body to heal itself. This theory prioritizes environmental factors, such as fresh air, clean water, efficient drainage, cleanliness of the patient and care area, and sunlight, as essential for human health and healing.

Much of this theory was conceptualized during and after the Crimean War—a time when pasteurization, antibiotics, and antiseptics had not yet been discovered and little was available for the treatment of infection and disease.


  • nursing-theory.org
  • Science Direct, Florence Nightingale’s Environmental Theory and its influence on contemporary infection control. Author Heather A. Gilbert, Dec. 2020, pages 626–633.