Tamsin Smith from the History of Nursing Forum explores the RCN’s online history exhibitions from the comfort of her sofa

I am lucky to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK, the Outer Hebrides, and prior to COVID-19 some of my daily commutes would mean experiencing stunning views (pictured below). However, as many of you will know, living in remote and rural areas of the UK often means RCN events, exhibitions and national forum activities are out of our reach. 

Photo of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides taken by RCN member Tamsin Smith

One of the positive things to have come out of COVID-19 is that more events and resources than ever are being made accessible online. The RCN has always had some exhibitions and events online, including many involving the History of Nursing Forum, but even more events have gone digital during the pandemic. As an avid nurse historian, the ability to explore these have been transformative. Not only can I access a wealth of fantastic information and artefacts online, but through events I can network with like-minded colleagues. Distance (and in my case a fair bit of water too) is no longer a barrier.

From perusing previous exhibitions that pique my interest such as ‘For Queen and Country: Nursing trauma and war’ to the current exhibitions ‘The many-faced myths of Nursing’ and ‘Who cares? A history of emotions in nursing’, I have learned so many fascinating facts. My history of nursing interests include nursing and war so it was interesting to hear for the first time about how nurses in the First World War experienced shellshock and that specialist pain nurses have been around since the early 20th century. 

A photo of Emma Durham alongside a locket containing Nightingale's hair

Accessing these exhibitions online has introduced me and many others to interesting information in a quick and easy way. According to the RCN Library team, ‘Pandemic! Nursing 100 years of infection’ which commemorated the Spanish flu pandemic, has understandably been popular in the past year.  

Each exhibition involves collaboration between the History of Nursing Forum and other RCN forums. These activities connect us as members and allow us to learn from each other. I look forward to future exhibitions, including one focusing on learning disability nursing, exploring this amazing branch of nursing which recently celebrated 100 years of certification.

Online events

As well as our exhibitions, there’s a whole archive of virtual history events to explore. From March 2020 the RCN began recording most online history events and these are available to watch for free. Recently, Douglas Hamandishe and Roland Dix shared their experiences in mental health care during the pandemic, while to celebrate LGBT+ History Month, Rachael Ridley spoke about being an openly trans nurse in the UK. 

Explore our exhibitions

There are 14 RCN exhibitions to visit online, covering the history of nursing during World War One, diversity within the nursing profession, 100 years of the RCN, the histories of women’s health, public health and mental health nursing, and much more. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find.

Graphic from the RCN Library and Archive exhibition reading 'Many Faced Myths of Nursing' on a blue background

The Many-faced Myths of Nursing

Discover the popular beliefs and cultural representations that shape the way we think about nursing – from Florence Nightingale and Charles Dickens’ characters to Carry On films, modern male nurses and robot carers. 

Triptych stained glass window depicting the role nurses play in birth, illness and death

Who Cares? A History of Emotions in Nursing

Researchers look at the place of emotions in nursing: what emotional qualities make a good nurse, has that changed during the past 150 years, and does our society care enough about the emotional wellbeing of nurses?

Nursing Mirror front page from 1917 calling nurses to 'Wake up, slackers!'

Wake Up, Slackers! The Great Nursing Registration Controversy

After decades of campaigning, the Nurses Registration Act was finally passed in December 1919. This exhibition explores the long and heated arguments of the registration debate and the characters who made it happen.

Read next