Nursing history is replete with examples of heroic individuals acting courageously to meet the needs of vulnerable patients and communities. Heroism exemplifies the pinnacle of self-actualised behaviour. It fuels the plots of countless human stories, and enthrals and inspires people. Yet, heroism may be seen as an extreme behaviour that only exceptional individuals are capable of enacting, and may thus be seen as out of reach for ordinary nurses, and something that could be risky to teach and disseminate. An alternative view is that altruistic professions such as nursing are often regarded as being heroic by nature, and that nurses therefore need to be encouraged to understand, deepen and exercise their potential through a recognition of acts of heroism in nursing - whether these can be classed as exceptional or everyday acts of nursing heroism. The purpose of this article is to provide a thematic review of the literature on heroism in nursing, in order to understand how recent research in heroism science is being, or could be, applied to the nursing discipline. Heroism science is an emerging research area that is of interest to nursing leaders, educators and all those seeking to advance the social change agenda in healthcare.
A literature review was undertaken in 2017 using CINAHL, PUBMED, Cochrane, Medline, and Google Scholar. The search was limited to papers that were peer reviewed, in English, and published in the last ten years.
Four books and 33 papers were identified.
Gaining a clear understanding of what constitutes a hero and heroism is essential to applying heroism to nursing and to education of students so they are inspired to act courageously.