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Q: Should we create an international Museum of Modern Nursing to show the world how vital, exciting, and technologically advanced nursing really is?

A: Why, yes, what a great idea!

We should establish an International Museum of Modern Nursing where people from all over the world can come to learn about what nurses today do to save lives and improve outcomes. Public understanding of nursing is abysmally poor. This is a major factor underlying many of the more immediate causes of the deadly global nursing shortage. By increasing understanding of the profession, nursing can attract the new members and resources it needs to meet the health care challenges of the 21st century. A landmark, high-tech science museum devoted to nursing could be a powerful tool in these efforts.

We envision an interactive nursing science museum in a major city that would garner national and local financial support and become one of the sites that travelers to that city "must visit." The museum would show not only the development of nursing, but also the diverse and exciting modern reality: that nursing is an autonomous profession whose members use innovative practice and the latest technologies to help people regain and maintain health, and that nurse scholars work on the cutting edge of health research. Visitors would be invited to put themselves in the place of nurses on the front lines, in settings ranging from the extreme high-tech of teaching hospital ICU's, to chaotic urban level one trauma centers, to major health policymaking and research centers, to small community health projects in remote locations, to development and humanitarian relief projects around the world.

Imagine a museum visitor walks into a "patient's room" in a "hospital." The visitor might be asked what he has seen in the first few seconds. Then the visitor might be shown, through audio and visual displays, the countless things a skilled nurse would have seen in this same time--aspects of the patient's physical and emotional state, things that provide clues to the patient's condition. Suddenly, monitors starting beeping. The patient is coding! What will the visitor do? Again the visitor can be shown the many things a skilled nurse would have done in the first few moments. Perhaps the visitor can take part in simulated versions of some of them, like defibrillation (obviously without live current). Or perhaps the patient is not in immediate physical danger, but is in despair because of the toll her chronic illness has taken on her and her family. What would the "visitor" say and do? What would a skilled nurse say and do?

But aren't there already museums of nursing? There are, and we believe that many of these museums play an important role in preserving the profession's history, particularly as to specific geographic and specialty areas and institutions. Such museums often focus on preserving artifacts of nursing in prior eras. However, to our knowledge there is no major museum devoted to showing the broader public what nursing really is today and why it matters.

The new museum we propose might utilize the kind of evolving technologies that major science museums are now using to bring scientific endeavors alive for the public. Examples include the Field Museum in Chicago, the Science Museum in London, and the Deutsches Museum in Munich. The Science Museum's Health Matters gallery includes a range of interactive exhibits to give visitors a sense of the scope and importance of modern health science. Philadelphia's Franklin Institute currently devotes significant resources not only to its giant walk-through heart, but a range of related health exhibits and equipment.

These museums convey the value of modern science and technology. They inspire public support for the ongoing work of science--support that nursing needs desperately. A world-class Museum of Modern Nursing could attract new generations of potential nurses, and just as importantly, build the widespread community support that will translate into the clinical, educational, and research resources needed to strengthen the profession and combat the shortage.

We urge nursing advocates to consider how a Museum of Modern Nursing might be developed, financed, and managed.

last updated: February 29, 2008

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