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The Dream Job: Humanitarian Nursing with Médecins Sans Frontieres - Oral History Archive
This is an oral history project of nurses who worked for Médecins Sans Frontières in the 1990s and early 2000s which attempts to understand the motivation for humanitarian nursing in the late 20th century and to locate this work in the life story of the nurses interviewed. The aim in recording their histories was to better understand nurses' motivations for engaging in humanitarian work, in particular where no immediate threat of war or invasion is present and in the absence of overt religious or nationalistic motivations. In so doing the analysis offers insights into nursing identity and the place of humanitarianism in nursing practice. Secondary aims were to explore nurses' contribution to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and their experience of being in the field following humanitarian crises of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Seven oral histories were recorded in 2013; each was recorded in a single sitting. Six of these histories are currently included in this archive. Orators/Participants were asked to recount their pathway to becoming a nurse and then subsequently volunteering with MSF; their experience of working for MSF; and their post-MSF life. Beyond these three questions few prompts were offered. A voice centred relational method (The listening guide) was used to aid analysis of the text due to its multilayered and feminist approach to understanding and analysis. The nurses offer a window into the life of a nurse working for MSF and thus some insight into the organisation itself. In addition, the histories include eye witness reports of involvement in humanitarian missions all over the world in the late 20th and early 21st century.

This project did not set out to explore MSF as an organisation in any detail so no attempt has been made, retrospectively, to do so. MSF [also known as 'Doctors without Borders'] is a large, multinational organisation offering medical aid in areas of conflict and natural disaster. Formed in 1971 in France it was created on the "belief that all people have the right to medical care regardless of gender, race, religion, creed or political affiliation, and that the needs of these people outweigh respect for national boundaries" (msf.org.uk). There are now regional offices all over the world, operating in a coordinated but widespread system. MSF UK was opened in the early 1990s, which gave starting date to the period of time explored in the oral history project.
  • MSF/1

    Project Reference Documents Item

    2015
    These files set the scene for the project, give a decription of the organisation involved and the scope of the oral histories undertaken. It also includes a guide to the methodology used to analyse the interviews and a guide to the emergent themes. Recording agreements covering use and distribution of oral history material are also stored here.
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  • MSF/2

    Interviewee: Alex Item

    2013
    Alex is the pseudonym chosen by a British nurse who has worked with Médecins Sans Frontières since the late 1990s initially in overseas missions and lately at the MSF UK offices. Alex had a strong desire to undertake humanitarian work and planned her nursing training and early career experience around preparing for this opportunity. She completed a degree in nursing in the 1990s. She then took a number of opportunities to do small amounts of work abroad in Romania and Uganda, to gain experience of emergency nursing in A&E and to complete courses in teaching and in tropical medicine. She undertook two missions for MSF in Sierra Leone and Siri Lanka - both particularly dangerous combat settings. After these she decided that working for the MSF UK office would be a better way to support MSF work and has combined working for MSF UK with settling down to a family and children.
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  • MSF/3

    Interviewee: Bo Item

    2013
    Bo is the pseudonym chosen by a nurse who started working with Médecins Sans Frontières during the 1990s. Having trained as an adult nurse in London in the mid-1980s, she left for Australia in the late 1980s, started volunteering for Amnesty and joined MSF in 1991/2. Returning to England to take a tropical medicine course and learn French in preparation, Bo was then posted to Somalia. This was the first of many missions all over the world, interspersed with further study, time working for the NHS, marriage and parenthood. Bo continues to work for MSF as a policy advisor and researcher.
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  • MSF/4

    Interviewee: Chris Item

    2013
    Chris is a British nurse who worked with Voluntary Service Overseas and with Médecins Sans Frontières during the 1990s and early 2000s. Chris completed a nursing degree in the early 1980s and then worked for around 7 years as a staff nurse and sister within the NHS. Following her training as a nurse tutor, and the end of her first marriage, Chris went on to work in nurse education in London before her international work. She volunteered for over 6 years; first for VSO in 1994 and subsequently for MSF. She worked in Bangladesh (VSO + MSF) and then China (MSF). Chris returned to the UK to settle in 2001, is now married and currently works for a voluntary organisation in the south of England.
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  • MSF/5

    Interviewee: Jo Item

    2013
    Jo is the pseudonym chosen by a British nurse who worked with Médecins Sans Frontières from 1993 to the early 2000s. Her missions took her to Cambodia, Rwanda, South Sudan and Siri Lanka. In between missions she worked as a locum practice nurse, and continued to do this whist continuing her career working for the WHO Polio Eradication Programme. More recently she has continued to follow her love of travel by working for a tour company offering bespoke holidays all over the world.
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  • MSF/6

    Interviewee: Lesley Item

    2013
    Lesley is the pseudonym chosen by a British nurse who trained in the early 1980s. Following her early career in the NHS, she worked for VSO in Tanzania and then trained as a midwife before joining MSF. Starting with Cambodia in 1998 and finishing with Haiti in 2011, Lesley undertook around 17 missions in all, some for a year or more but many that where shorter emergency interventions or research projects. She also completed a Masters in International Health. Having returned to live in the UK and met her husband, Lesley continues to support MSF and works for Marie Stopes and as a community nurse for the NHS.
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  • MSF/7

    Interviewee: Sam Item

    2013
    Angela is a British nurse who started her nurse training in 1989, registering in the early 1990s and has been involved in MSF missions since the late 1990s. She encountered MSF on her first overseas mission with Health Projects Abroad. Since then she has completed 6 missions so far, successfully alternating these with work in the NHS, usually in accident and emergency. At present, she remains open to completing another mission, but personal commitments have put this on hold for the time being.
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