"We are not heroes": The flipside of the hero narrative amidst the COVID19-pandemic: A Danish hospital ethnography

Nina Halberg*, Pia Søe Jensen, Trine Schifter Larsen

*Corresponding author

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Aim: To explore how the media and socially established hero narrative, affected the nursing staff who worked in the frontline during the first round of the COVID19-pandemic.
Background: During the COVID19-pandemic, both media, politicians and the public have supported and cheered on the frontline healthcare workers around the world. We have found the hero narrative to be potentially problematic for both nurses and other healthcare workers. This paper presents an analysis and discussion of the consequences of being proclaimed a hero.
Design: Hospital ethnography including fieldwork and focus groups.
Method: Empirical data was collected in a newly opened COVID19-ward in a university hospital in the urban site of Copenhagen, Denmark. Fieldwork was performed from April until the ward closed in the end of May 2020. Succeeding focus group interviews with nursing staff who worked in the COVID19-ward were conducted in June 2020. The data were abductively analysed.
Results: The nursing staff rejected the hero narrative in ways that show how the
hero narrative leads to predefined characteristics, ideas of being invincible and selfsacrificing, knowingly and willingly working in risk, transcending duties and imbodying a boundless identity. Being proclaimed as a hero inhibits important discussions of rights and boundaries.
Conclusion: The hero narrative strips the responsibility of the politicians and imposes it onto the hospitals and the individual heroic health care worker.
Impact: It is our agenda to show how the hero narrative detaches the connection
between the politicians, society and healthcare system despite being a political apparatus. When reassessing contingency plans, it is important to incorporate the experiences from the health care workers and include their rights and boundaries. Finally, we urge the media to cover a long-lasting pandemic without having the hero narrative as the reigning filter.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2021

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