Humanitarian nursing with Médecins Sans Frontières: The dream job

Janet Hargreaves, Berenice Golding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Aim: This original oral history research explores the motivation for and experience of humanitarian nursing. In doing so it demonstrates nursing’s role in relief work and offers a unique record of such remarkable nursing contributions in the late 20th and early 21st century. The formation of modern nursing is often associated with times of conflict, such as the Crimea and other wars, where nurses were drawn to offer their services: this research adds to our understanding of the continuing attraction of such work and its place in nursing history and practice.

Methods: Following ethical approval oral histories were recorded with 7 nurses, who worked for Médecins Sans Frontières during this period. Analysis used the Listening Guide, a feminist approach employing four related readings of the data.

Results: The histories locate their extraordinary experiences within their life story and identity as nurses: Escapism and moral outrage, combined with a love of travel and thirst for adventure, influenced their decision to becoming a Médecins Sans Frontières nurse. Once on a mission their narrative captures the contrast between the ordinary and the extraordinary: familiar routine experiences side by side with mortal danger. Returning to normal life required resilience and a reappraisal of their life story in order to locate their experiences and find meaning and peace in their post-mission world. An overarching theme of ‘dreams’ includes romance, nightmares and impossible dreams.

Conclusion: At a time of debate and challenge regarding the role and identity of nursing within society, this research records and analyses the oral histories of nurses working with Médecins Sans Frontières at this time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-56
Number of pages8
JournalHealth Emergency and Disaster Nursing
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


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