Are nurses inspirational?

Last month the United Kingdom Royal Mint announced that an image of Lord Kitchener, wartime general, would appear on a series of £2 coins marking the outbreak of World War One in 1914.  Social media commentaries highlighted that Lord Kitcheners’ famous army recruitment slogan ‘your country needs you’ glorified war, leading to alternative suggestions such as nurse Edith Cavell.  Initiated by a local councillor, and subsequently embraced by the nursing media, a petition for the image of Edith Cavell to be honoured ensued.  30,000 people signed the online petition in the first week.  If your history is a bit shaky, Edith Cavell was a British nurse who treated allied soldiers of all nationalities and assisted their escape from German-occupied Belgium during World War One.  In August 1915, she was arrested and charged with assisting allied soldiers escape to neutral Holland, tried by a court-martial, sentenced to death and executed.  Edith Cavell represents all nurses who provided care during World War One, who though dedication and courage were committed to saving human life.  Other inspirational nurses have been similarly honoured; in 2012 the Royal Australian Mint launched a series of coins as a tribute to Australian Services nurses who play important roles during times of war, conflict and peacekeeping.

Nurses provide healthcare worldwide in a range of contexts, cultures, organisations and settings, and often remain largely invisible; yet to those who they support and care for, and colleagues they work with, are inspirational.  Every nurse will have been inspired by another nurse they admire. Many colleagues have inspired me; as a student nurse, I have clear memories of the ward sister on my first placement because of her depth of knowledge, vision in integrating evidence into practice (well before evidence-based nursing was taught) and her enthusiasm for teaching students. As a newly qualified children’s nurse working on a busy surgical ward caring for children undergoing complex surgery, it was a senior staff nurse that inspired me; she was caring and compassionate and had all the qualities I admired. I was in awe of her ability to make time for everyone despite the competing demands of a busy ward, junior staff and students, but it was the way she would engage with the child and family that most impressed. She had an ability to instil confidence and ensure the child and family felt valued and included in care decisions. What these nurses had in common was that they would not have perceived themselves as inspirational, perhaps best reflected by Samuel Butler the 17th-century poet; ‘Inspiration is never genuine if it is known as inspiration at the time. True inspiration always steals on a person; its importance not being fully recognised for some time’, from the Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912).

Share your thoughts and comments:   What makes nurses inspirational?  Who has influences you throughout your career?

Jo Smith, Senior Lecturer Children’s Nursing, University of Huddersfield, Associate Editor EBN

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