Spirit of Florence Nightingale lives on in Ishinomaki Red Cross Nursing School


Ishinomaki Red Cross Nursing School holds a proud place in the history of Red Cross nurses in Japan. A former graduate, Mrs Tokiko Saita, now 86, received nursing’s highest international honour, the Florence Nightingale Medal, in 2009. Mrs Saita received her medal from Japan’s Empress Michiko.

The International Committee of the Red Cross awards the medal for “exceptional courage and devotion to the wounded, sick or disabled or civilian victims of a conflict or disaster”. The award also recognises “exemplary services or a creative and pioneering spirit in the areas of public health or nursing education”.

The school created a special room to display the medal and the work of Mrs Saita and its nurses in Japan and around the world.

Ishinomaki was one of the hardest hit areas on March 11. The tsunami destroyed the school, including its Florence Nightingale room. The medal, however, was later retrieved from the debris and rubble.

The medal and the story of Mrs Saita’s career will be enshrined in a special room in the new Ishinomaki Red Cross Nursing School. It is hoped that construction of the new school will begin later this year.

About 100 staff and students were in the school when the tsunami struck. They fled to an evacuation centre at a primary school and helped care for people there. Four staff were trapped on the third floor of the nursing school for two days until the water receded. They then went to an evacuation centre and helped care for people there.

“The staff and students had been through their own ordeal but put the needs of others first,” said Mr Hatsuo Abe, Deputy Director of the Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital, the parent institution of the nursing school.

“Florence Nightingale would have been very proud of them.”