The nurse's odyssey: the professional folktale in New Zealand backblocks nurses' stories, 1910-1915

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Abstract

The nurse's odyssey: the professional folktale in New Zealand backblocks nurses' stories, 1910-1915

Nurses have a long tradition of storytelling. Nurses in the New Zealand government's Backblocks Nursing Service, established in 1909 for settlers in remote rural areas, related narratives of personal experience in articles, conference papers and letters to their chief nurse that were published in the country's nursing journal. Analysis of the 16 stories published between 1910 and 1915 revealed 14 had a common storyline and structure. Structural elements included a call, arduous journey, arrival and reconnaissance, trial (difficult case or circumstance), resolution and homily. Using a literary folkloristics approach, this article argues that repetition of the story by nurses in different regions traditionalised it as a professional folktale, ‘The nurse's odyssey’. It enabled nurses to debrief from difficult cases and write-into-being this new role and practice. Striking differences in the practice setting ensured the story's reportability, while clinical details connected writer and readers through a common professional aesthetic context and strengthened the story's credibility. For the chief nurse who was also a journal editor, publishing the stories allowed her to potentially attract nurses to the service while alerting them to its harsh realities, and show policy-makers the profession's value in meeting new health service needs.

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