What a good nurse! Reflections on stories that stereotype and those that don’t

What a good nurse! Reflections on stories that stereotype and those that don’t

This week I am delighted to introduce our guest blogger, Professor Margaret McAllister, a friend and warmly regarded colleague. Margaret is a gifted story teller and researcher whose written works and conference presentations are both engaging and provocative. In this post Margaret dispels some of the myths associated with ‘the good nurse’ and challenges educators to consider the use of negative stories in their teaching.


Tracy, a captivating storyteller herself, has previously written in her blog about the benefits to healthcare students and professionals when they contemplate powerful stories. Illness and resilience stories humanise the healthcare experience, and because they are often imbued with layers of meaning, can prompt critical reflection. This reflection can go several ways – we can be motivated to think back on the story and perhaps our own lives, and we can be urged to think ahead towards the future, perhaps changing the way we think or act. This is the transformative power of compelling stories. Another benefit of stories is that they come in multiple modes and so, when available, we can access them by reading, viewing, or listening.

Tracy and I have partnered up with colleagues on several occasions to share stories and teaching approaches designed to deepen learners’ engagement [1, 2]. Stories don’t have to be factual to have impact; well-drawn fictional tales can teach us important lessons on being human – think of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Good Will Hunting, for example.

I and several other scholars have argued elsewhere that the media don’t always get it right in conveying the complexity of nursing practice and mainstream films and tabloid newspapers can be criticised for perpetuating unhelpful stereotypes about nurses and doctors. In 2004 the Telegraph screamed, “Are young nurses too posh to wash?” which really didn’t do too much good for nursing’s long struggle to achieve university status equivalent to our colleagues in medicine, physio, occupational therapy, and the like. The hidden stereotype in such a claim is that to be a nurse you don’t need a university education and indeed it is something to be ashamed of.

Another ongoing stereotype about nursing, sometimes effectively achieving sympathy and gratitude in the public, is the idea that nurses are angelic – omnipotent and omniscient – knowing the answer to every query, and able to anticipate a patient’s every need. This is a fairly unreasonable stereotype and  a difficult one to live up to! It is also dehumanising as nurses aren’t angels, they are human beings, capable of doing good, but also capable of making mistakes.


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