Wednesday, March 14, 2018

This Pi Day, Celebrate the Ultimate Pi-oneer: Florence Nightingale

It’s Pi Day, when number fans over the world celebrate the much-loved mathematical constant 3.14 (the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter), which continues infinitely past its decimal point without pattern or repetition! In honor of this special day, we’re shouting out pi-oneer G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ Florence Nightingale.

Most people think of Florence as a nurse. But they don’t realize how she revolutionized modern healthcare and became the first woman to be inducted into the Royal Statistical Society. While working at a hospital during the Crimean War in 1853, Florence was appalled to find the facility unorganized and unsanitary, hardly a place where sick people could get better!

Florence decided to use her statistical skills to propose improved triage and sanitary procedures to reduce the high mortality rates. Using statistics and an innovative chart to depict the benefits of her proposed methods, she was able to convince the British government to implement her procedures to save lives. And wow did it pay off—through Florence’s influence, death rates in hospitals dropped from 42 percent to 2 percent!

Florence got her start in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as a child growing up in England. Under her father’s guidance, she learned about and developed a passion for math and its many practices, particularly statistics. Some of her earliest tinkerings with numbers involved creating charts to organize a vegetable garden. Never one to sit on the sidelines, once she grew older, Florence blended her statistical skills with her nursing skills to develop more formalized nursing.

Motivated by her experience during the Crimean War, Florence continued to educate the public and others who practiced medicine by popularizing pie charts (no pun intended), which were new at the time and the perfect way to present statistical information simply and visually. In fact, she was one of the very first people who figured out how to innovatively depict numbers visually. She lived her entire life as a go-getter, innovator, risk-taker, and leader as she persistently sought to improve healthcare through hospital planning and professionalizing nursing as a career.

So if you happen to be celebrating Pi Day over a plate with a slice of your favorite pi-e, raise a fork in remembrance of Florence, whose innovative legacy of leadership and mathematical influence is as long-lasting as the numerals after 3.14!