The Dream Job: Humanitarian Nursing with Médecins Sans Frontieres - Oral History Archive

Scope and Content

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" ( 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.

Administrative / Biographical History

In 2012 Janet Hargreaves was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship by the Higher Education Academy in the UK. The grant was used to undertake a project researching MSF nurses in collaboration with Berenice Golding, and this oral history data was one of the outputs of the project. Janet Hargreaves is a Professor of Professional Education in the School of Human and Health Science at the University of Huddersfield. Dr Berenice Golding is a lecturer in Social Sciences in the same School and an expert in the Voice Centred Relational data analysis methodology.

Access Information

Contains personal data - access form needs to be signed. Permission from interviewees has been cleared.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Digital Archive only acquired in .doc and .mp3 formats.

Conditions Governing Use

Held by interviewer and interviewee

Custodial History

Oral history interviews were recorded in 2013 by Janet Hargreaves and analysis done by Hargreaves and Berenice Golding. Project files were collected digitally before being transferred onto the archive shared drive in November 2015. Files were then copied onto the CALM collections server in January 2016.

Related Material

Article: Hargreaves, J & Golding, 2014. 'Not for God, Queen or Country' UK Association for the History of Nursing Bulletin Vol.3, 2014 pp 33-43.

Poster: Hargreaves, J & Golding B 2014. 'Humanitarian Nursing with Médecins sans Frontières: The Dream Job' American Association for the History of Nursing, Dublin 2015

Professorial Lecture: 'The Dream Job' University of Huddersfield, December 2014