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Narratives of the 'not-so-good nurse': Rewriting nursing's virtue script
journal contributionposted on 11.12.2017, 00:00 authored by Margaret McallisterMargaret Mcallister, Donna BrienDonna Brien
The prolonged commemoration of the ANZAC centenary has flooded popular culture with images of the self-sacrificing, ever-reliable, ably-competent and often feisty, forthright, female nurse. This notion of ‘the good nurse’ is prevalent and promulgates what Nelson and Gordon (2006) term a ‘virtue script’ for, and about, nurses. Following this scripting, nurses portray themselves, and are portrayed, as angelic, sweet, kind carers, which persuades the public to respond warmly, and this in turn makes nurses feel good. This positive feedback loop, ironically, traps nursing and nurses (who are still predominantly women) into a continual one-dimensional, unrealistic and de-humanised portrayal. Nurses are undermined and silenced when only one aspect of their identity is understood. There are, however, other representations of nursing, which offer important counter-points to the ‘good nurse’ which, when examined closely, can yield a more nuanced, albeit sometimes shockingly gritty, realistic reading. This is important, for to paraphrase Zizek (2011), the problem (for society) is not bad people doing bad things – they always do – the problem is when good people do horrible things, while being unaware of the ramifications of their actions. Re/reading recent auto/biographies of nurses to move beyond the virtue script – Get well soon!: My (Un)Brilliant Career as a Nurse (Chambers, 2012), The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder (Graeber, 2014) and A Nurse’s Story (Shalof, 2005) – will show how a more nuanced, cosmopolitan reading of these nurses and their profession can promote a clearer understanding of how contemporary nursing identity can be understood, characterised and developed.