I heard the quote again the other day when I was talking to a friend about the way that the greatest enemies of progress are often one’s own colleagues and friends.
The subject came up because of two instances in nursing that had shown how unstable some professional ideologies can be when exposed to critical scrutiny.
The first instance was the debate surrounding the publication of David Thompson and Philip Darbyshire’s paper Is academic nursing being sabotaged by its own killer elite? (Thompson and Darbyshire, 2013a). In their rejoinder to the paper and subsequent protests, the authors wrote that;
Notwithstanding this support the authors received from within their profession, it seems that the article stimulated quite a lot of heated commentary and consternation from within the nursing profession.
A good friend of mine experienced the same mobilisation of the ‘killer elite’ a few years earlier when he published a paper criticising the ethics of nurses who worked on death row. How could it be, he asked, that nurses could exercise their professional mandate to care for people, in the knowledge that they were going to be electrocuted or given a lethal injection? He was roundly attacked; not by human rights workers, sociologists, prison reform advocates or others, but by other nurses, being accused of betraying his profession, embarrassing its leaders, and exposing it to unwanted public criticism.
It would be nice to think that those who are posing challenging and interesting questions of physiotherapy don’t suffer the same fate. But, I suppose, whenever one critiques a set of practices, one also challenges the beliefs that go with it and, by extension, the people that hold to those beliefs. Let us hope that our own ‘killer elite’ recognise, like Voltaire, that now is not the time to be making enemies.
2013a) Is academic nursing being sabotaged by its own killer elite? Journal of Advanced Nursing 69(1), 1–3.& (
2013b) Reply. Journal of Advanced Nursing 69(5), 1216–1219.& (