molly case rcn

Molly Case performs ‘Nursing the Nation’ at RCN Congress

Twenty years ago, I wrote an editorial for Journal of Advanced Nursing called, “Preserving nurse caring in a destitute time”. (Read it here) In it, few were spared. I railed against Thatcherism, greedy economics, the systematic devaluation of caring, the relentless ‘re-disorganisation’ of our health care systems, community care as a cheap option, people being viewed as simply ‘resources’ to be used, managementspeak pollution and more.

I worried for the very notion of human caring itself and whether this was simply too fragile a flower to bloom in such a barren ideological and political wasteland that saw care as little more than mawkish sentimentality. Health services, we were told back in the early 1990s, had to ‘modernise’, to forget about ‘caring’, (or at best to simply assume that it would somehow ‘happen’). They had far more exciting and muscular agendas to pursue such as effectiveness, efficiency, profitability, rationalisation and being “fully committed” to excellence and quality, whatever that meant. Well, we reaped that particular whirlwind and reports such as the those from The Patients Association and Sir Robert Francis mark the nadir of caring’s neglect.

I finished that 1993 editorial with a wish, that: “We must rediscover our passion for and about Nursing as a real social force with an ethic of good immovably embedded within it.” The title of the editorial, I borrowed from Heidegger’s essay called ‘What are poets for?’ In it he asked Hölderlin’s question: “What are poets for in a destitute time?” His answer, as elliptical as ever, was that:
“To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. (…) ‘Song still lingers over [the] destitute land. The singer’s word still keeps to the trace of the holy.”

This month, something remarkable happened at the RCN Congress in the UK. Without fanfare, a young second year student nurse, writer and voice artist called Molly Case took to the rostrum to read her poem, ‘Nursing the Nation’ that she had written in response to the seemingly relentless stories of ‘poor care’ that she and her fellow-students were seeing, that can “dishearten us before we’ve even started our careers”. If anyone in the audience worried for even a moment that they might get an “E.J. Thribb 17½” offering they were soon proved more than wrong. Molly simply blew Congress away with a performance of such power and compassion that it is unlikely to stop at 129,000 145,000 150,109 167,555 183,630 YouTube hits.

Like a true poet in a destitute time Molly ‘attended’, Molly ‘sang‘ and Molly ‘traced’. As a nurse, she has watched and listened and touched and helped and cared and learned and it showed. She sang her words and they soared high above the usual platitudes of an RCN Conference. She traced out the lives of those people who come to us for care, not for warehousing or ‘throughputting’ and traced too the often unnoticed and seemingly unremarkable caring practices that nurses perform every day that make such a profound difference to people’s lives. Here indeed was an embodiment of “rediscovering our passion for and about Nursing as a real social force with an ethic of good immovably embedded within it.”

For over twenty years I have used poetry, arts and humanities to teach nursing and to highlight those aspects of patients’ and people’s health and illness experiences that our textbooks and journals rarely touch. I am still often asked, quite seriously, ‘Why do nurses need to bother about poetry?’. Now, I will simply point people to Molly’s YouTube link.

Molly Case, I doff my hat to you.



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