Where have all the nurse heroes gone?

Recently I was running a workshop and asked the nurses present to identify their nursing heroes. The usual suspects came very quickly (i.e. Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole, Edith Cavell, Margaret Sanger) but they couldn’t identify any from the last decade let alone 50 years. That started me thinking about why this was the case. These are nursing heroes but they have almost acquired a semi-mythical status and are seen as somehow “nothing like us”.Why couldn’t these nurses think of any modern nurse heroes? Is it that there haven’t been any great nurses in recent times? That seems unlikely. Figures like Trevor Clay, John Goodlad, Christine Hancock, etc have had a major impact on nursing but their names do not seem to trip off the tongue of today’s generation of nurses.When the exercise is repeated at a personal level (i.e. people are asked to name a nurse who inspired or supported them), nurses can often recall a particular ward sister or tutor or care assistant who touched their lives. Sometimes through their words and sometimes through example, nurses carry the inspiration of these personal heroes into their everyday practice. They recall them with smiles and affectionate memories and produce wonderful anecdotes and clinical stories.

So why does this inspiration happen at the personal level but not at the level of the whole profession. Why aren’t there the equivalents of Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Bob Geldof, etc who are celebrated in nursing? In an age of satellite television, the internet, mobile technology, etc it is easier than it has ever been to pass stories around and yet we don’t tell stories of great modern nurses.Maybe we should have a Nurse Heroes Day where we all have to find a modern nurse hero and simply tell other people about it. There could be small celebrations in clinical settings across the country where we tell great stories about modern heroes that can inspire as well as Florence, Edith, Margaret and Mary did to their generations. In colleges across the country, student nurses could hear stories about modern nurses who have changed practice, influenced institutions and governments and moved the profession forward. And perhaps, just perhaps, this may inspire the nurse heroes and heroines of the future.

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