Five Questions for… Jane Brooks

Next in our series introducing MedHumLab members is Dr Jane Brooks, Lecturer in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, Deputy Director of the UK Centre for the History of Nursing and Midwifery and Editor of the UK Association for the History of Nursing Bulletin. She talks about her research on the history of nursing during the Second World War and the value and challenges of oral history projects.

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Sister Winifred Mountford, a nursing sister with the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in a tented operating theatre in the desert in the Second World War

How does your research on the history of nursing play into the field of medical humanities?

My research into the work and practices of nurses in the 2nd World War identifies them as critical players in the 2WW medical services, both in the clinical work that they undertook and their presence as women, which appears to have supported the healing process and beliefs in a homeland to secure. Nursing in many ways is the human link in the medical / technology / patient triad. The history of nursing seeks to illuminate how the place of nurses in healthcare was developed out of this postion.

How would you describe the importance of humanities in medical education and patient care?

On the BNurs at Manchester, we begin the first year by introducing the students to critical aspects and events in the history of the nursing profession. The evaluations from the students demonstrate that this enables them to situate themselves in their chosen profession and develop a more political and critical eye on the health services and their place in it. By introducing students to the history of ethical and unethical practices, they are able to begin to formulate a moral compass through the safer gaze of historical enquiry.

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Sister Emily Soper, also of the Q.A.s, outside the 66th General Hospital, Assam, just before night duty

One of your preferred research methods is oral history, alongside qualitative and quantitative historical research. Can you tell us about the value of oral history for your research? Are there any challenges?

Grassroots nurses have not always been a profession of writers. Although there are a number of leaders who wrote ideas about nursing, there is little from those nurses who engaged in patient care on a daily basis. Oral history allows us to develop an understanding of their work and their attitudes towards it. The challenges are the same as with oral history in general, but with some additional ones. In my oral history project with nurses who cared for older patients in the 20th century, the limited engagement with ethical practice, the frequent dehumanisation and the lack of resources and poverty of leadership caused distress to several participants. It is therefore vital, in oral history projects that deal with potentially sensitive data, for the interviewer to be alert to these difficulties.

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Jane out riding on her mare, Elsie

What are your hopes and expectations for MedHumLab for the near future?

I hope that the Lab continues to develop cross-disciplinary work. I should like to see collaborations between students of all disciplines.

And finally, how do you relax and unwind away from the office or seminar room?

I ride my horse and run with my young and completely tireless border-collie.

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