Commentary on Darbyshire et al (2020) ‘The Culture Wars, nursing, and academic freedom’ Journal of Advanced Nursing doi:10.1111/jan.14507
William P Ball RN
PhD Student, School of Health and Social Care, Edinburgh Napier University, UK
I enjoyed reading the recent editorial by Darbyshire et al (2020) which calls us as Nurses to stand against what seems to be an increasingly polarised and reductive popular discourse around contentious issues. I share many of their concerns about academic freedom and the observation that Nurses collectively seem to be shying away from speaking truth to power.
As a Registered Nurse and Population Health researcher, I particularly agree that the Nursing profession will always be closely invested in: “women's health; child development; surgery; science and evidence; pathophysiology; ethics; social justice; health inequity; sexuality; and more”, which obliges our engagement with such issues, even in the face of potential social media-led backlashes.
I wonder whether the major reason for a lack of engagement from the profession is mainly based on an individualistic attitude of self-defence? The relative lack of engagement related to social justice and equity issues is particularly striking to me. Anecdotal interactions suggest such issues are perceived to be ‘too political’ by some outside and even some within the profession. I believe this reflects a history of passively and collectively allowing orthodoxy to go unchallenged – a presumed requirement to be politically neutral, rather than just a desire for self-preservation through avoiding controversy and the personal or professional repercussions which may follow.
As Bell (2020) writes concerning the role of nursing in anti-racism, we have: “a nursing culture that is not consciously situated in a broader socio-political context.” This results in a profession and systems of education which are ‘politically soft’ – promoting apolitical approaches whilst also failing to acknowledge our role in reinforcing systemic oppressions. The profession may be best placed to address the issues raised through conscious and reflective processes like decolonisation (Moorley et al, 2020) in practice, education and research.
The authors also appeal to the long-term public support and good-will shown towards Nurses, as reflected in polling data which regularly rates us as the most trustworthy profession (Reinhart, 2020). It may be possible to leverage this public support in the discussion of contentious issues, although the extent to which this trust is dependant upon misconceptions about Nurses and Nursing is not known. If Nursing voices become more prominent or overtly political, public perceptions are likely to change, perhaps eroding the image of trustworthiness.
This issue is perhaps best exemplified by the rhetoric around Nursing work presented to the public in mainstream and social media. There has been widespread public recognition of the important work undertaken by healthcare staff during the COVID-19 crisis. Nurses (and other professions) have variously been described as ‘Angels’ and ‘Heroes’, with an abundance of war-like metaphors. Whilst this language is well-intentioned and probably used instinctively it contributes to ‘mysticisation’ of Nurses and Nursing work. Such stereotypes have the potential to be damaging to the Nursing profession in the long-term and should be vigorously challenged (Stokes-Parish et al, 2020).
Darbyshire, P., Patrick, L., Williams, S., MacIntosh, N., Ion, R. (2020), The Culture Wars, nursing, and academic freedom. Journal of Advanced Nursing. doi:10.1111/jan.14507
Bell, B. (2020), White dominance in nursing education: A target for anti‐racist efforts. Nursing Inquiry. doi:10.1111/nin.12379
Moorley, C, Ferrante, J, Jennings, K, Dangerfield, A. (2020), Decolonizing care of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic patients in the critical care environment: A practical guide. Nursing in Critical Care. 25: 324– 326. https://doi.org/10.1111/nicc.12537
Reinhart, R. J. (2020), Nurses continue to rate highest in honesty, ethics. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/274673/nurses‐continue‐rate‐highest‐honesty‐ethics.aspx
Stokes‐Parish, J., Elliott, R., Rolls, K. and Massey, D. (2020), Angels and Heroes: The Unintended Consequence of the Hero Narrative. Journal of Nursing Scholarship. doi:10.1111/jnu.12591
Editorial note: entries to JAN interactive are not reviewed and are published at the discretion of the Editor-in-Chief and may be subject to editing or removal by Wiley. We welcome replies, rejoinders, comments and debate on all entries provided they are not offensive or personal.