U.K. Vogue salutes nurses and other “everyday heroes” who now seem important
The July 2020 issue honored those on the “new front line.” One cover featured a midwife. And inside, that nurse advocated for more NHS funding. But nurses are not the “new” front line—they have been saving lives for a long time! Yet the editor’s essay did not group them with physicians, the recognized health experts, but with workers who are not in health care at all.
July 2020 – This month U.K. Vogue’s cover story was “The New Front Line: Celebrating courage in the face of adversity.” Community midwife Rachel Millar appears on one of three covers; the other covers have a train driver and a supermarket worker. And in the short profile inside the issue, Millar has a chance describe her work briefly and deliver a short but strong piece of advocacy. She says she hopes that after the applause and free food of the early Covid era fade, the National Health Service will not be forgotten, but instead there will be “positive change and a new and improved normal, for NHS staff and service users alike.” On the other hand, the magazine’s description of midwives and other nurses as part of a “new” front line is misleading at best. Nurses are highly skilled health professionals who have been saving lives for a very long time, just like physicians. Yet editor Edward Enninful, in his monthly letter, discusses physicians separately, as if they are the only obvious health care players. Then he includes nurses in a long list of “everyday heroes” who are now seen to be doing important work, in light of how Covid has affected lives worldwide, including shopkeepers, postal workers, and teachers. But most of these are not health workers. The implication seems to be that physicians are the health professionals, while the nurses and others are making other contributions. Maybe they are expert at something, but not health care. Enninful’s specific description of Millar is consistent with that impression, and with the angel stereotype of nursing. He finds in one quote from her, about community spirit, “a message of quiet, unflappable resilience, of kindness and hope, from the unsung who we continue to rely on for the unsettling journey ahead.” That’s good, but to the extent that nurses have been “sung,” it’s for those emotional qualities, which lay people may also embody. There is nothing here about nurses’ special health knowledge, nothing about their advanced life-saving skills. And that is the recognition nurses need if they are to get the respect and resources—like personal protective equipment—to provide care for Covid patients and everyone else.
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