Friday, 11 May 2012

Happy International Nurses Day!

Here is a post I wrote to mark Nurses Day for another blog, based at the wonderful Medical Humanities Department at Durham University, so I thought I would share it here, too:

© Imperial War Museum
I’ve been at two Medical Humanities events recently – a lecture and then a symposium - where, when it came to question time, the same query arose, though from two different plaintiffs: “What about nursing?” Cue a lonesome whistling wind and the scud of tumbleweed.

When we talk about medicine we mostly talk about physicians (curing suffering, causing suffering) and patients (plain old suffering, occasional bright spells) Other health care practitioners come in as also-rans. Yet images of nurses stride through the popular imagination – as cruel and uncaring as Nurse Ratched in recent press reports, jolly heroines cycling through suspiciously clean slums in Call the Midwife on TV, headless and scantily clad beside the French maid in the windows of Anne Summers – images that tell us very little about the job of nursing, but a lot about our society. This week marks the run-up to International Nurses Day, which falls (not co-incidentally) on Florence Nightingale’s birthday, May 12. There has been a lot of talk about ‘angels’.

I’m not a nurse, I’m a writer, a Writer-in Residence to be grand about it, supported by the generosity of the Leverhulme Trust to spend the year with the Nursing Studies department of University of Edinburgh. It is, as far as we can make out, the first time an artist or writer has worked directly with and for nurses. In the course of my time in Edinburgh, I’ll be interviewing individual nurses about their experiences and running workshops to encourage nursing students to craft their experiences into stories and fiction. Some of these things will turn up in my writing.

On October 2nd 2012 I’ll be giving a talk in the Teviot Lecture Hall, at Edinburgh University’s Medical Quad, entitled ‘Good Nurse, Bad Nurse’ on how nurses have been portrayed in books and film and the strange persistence of certain out-of-date stereotypes. But more of that later in the year.

Oh, and there’s this blog. All praise to the blog form for being a wonderful capacious hold-all with lots of pockets that can contain stories by me and by others, articles about nurses and popular culture, profiles of diverse and interesting nurses, not to mention thoughts on medical history and Edinburgh. It’s a kind of home to the residency, and will develop as the year goes on. And if any one has ideas, stories or opinions to contribute, do get in touch.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Nicola for sharing your writing.
    I am intrigued by the concept 'Good Nurse, Bad Nurse' and how the stereotypes of nursing influence people's perception. Nursing can be extraordinary, emotional and uplifting - good or bad but never indifferent! During International Nurses Week I am proud to be a nurse and look forward to working with you this year.
    Dr Dorothy Armstrong, Visiting Fellow, Nursing Studies and Professional Adviser to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.