Comment on: Thompson D.R. & Darbyshire P. (2013) Is academic nursing being sabotaged by its own killer elite? Journal of Advanced Nursing 69 (1), 1–3.


My initial response, on first reading this article, was shock. The type of shock that makes the world stand still for a moment, while a deafening silence fills your awareness because you've stopped breathing. That dissipated to a sad realisation that it needed to be written and was, in fact, overdue.

Personally, I have experienced the very best of nursing scholarly mentoring as a doctoral student. In other areas of my academic life, I have also experience the very worst, and therefore relate to Thompson and Darbyshire's (2013) editorial. It has eruditely opened up the issue for debate: a shattering of the tyranny of silence. However, it is a debate that must be actively pursued by the profession if we are to get past the effects of these behaviours. It is vital that the patterns referred to by Thompson and Darbyshire must not continue. Nursing seems to have this delusion that those in power cannot be questioned. This only serves to silence people and entrench the violence inherent in how we deal with each other. From personal experience, there seems to be a situation where people rise too high to be made accountable and systems close ranks around the perpetrators and the issues continue unchecked. These people, a rare and powerful ‘killer elite’, rely on the silence of those ‘under them’ as well as the powers that foster and support them to keep their positions intact. Meanwhile, those who have run foul of the powerful are broken. I know of too many who have all but given up as a result, and what is worse, few dare speak up against these people. Instead, the powerful continue to be, seemingly, rewarded. It is only by actively deconstructing the systems that actively foster these behaviours can we hope to address the perpetuation of horizontal violence that plagues our profession.

Thompson and Darbyshire have said what many of us, more junior academics, would love to say. Yet, we should take little comfort that it has been written. The real value of the editorial, therefore, may not lie in trying to reach the few that its well-crafted words seek to expose. Rather, it serves as a timely reminder to those of us who are building our academic nursing careers. Personally, as an early career researcher, this editorial serves as a harbinger of the pitfalls of those who aspire to academic leadership. Power is seductive and no one is immune from the negative effects of holding it. We must take heed now and act as tomorrow's tyrants are being groomed by unchallenged powerful people who brook no question or challenge to their power, methods or behaviour.

It also alludes to a more productive approach to producing quality scholarly outcomes:

  • Where people, not just articles, grants, and citations, are important;
  • Where collegial scholarly debate is valued above personal viewpoints;
  • Where we build sound careers in which our consistent contributions are made evident by their quality;
  • Where our impact into the profession, and beyond, speaks for itself and needs little ‘massaging’ to enhance our positions;
  • Where entitlement, long the bedfellow of dysfunctional hierarchy, has been relegated to history;
  • Where our leadership is regarded as enabling, egalitarian and generous;
  • Where the ‘Professor’ is a mentor rather than unquestionable master, a sharer of knowledge rather than it's guardian; and
  • Where a person completing a PhD is seen as obtaining a license to engage in a broader adventure of generating new knowledge and forging partnerships across professional boundaries, rather than joining an elite club.

If there are any professors out there angry about Thompson and Darbyshire's Editorial expose, I invite them to reflect on why they feel so aggrieved. Sadly, the rare but powerful few who fit the title of ‘killer-elite’ usually have only a modicum of self-reflection and as such, remain in the dark as to the impact their behaviour has on those around them.

Thompson and Darbyshire state very clearly in their closing remarks that, ‘Nursing is too important to be held captive a moment longer to the killer elite.’ A comment I wholeheartedly support. However, those of us who are emerging researchers need to heed this warning: If we don't keep a reflective eye on our own motivators and behaviours, we could so easily replace them. Why, you may ask? Simply, its how we've always done it in nursing. We may ‘eat our young’, but those that survive the mauling will invariably, if not aware of their behaviour, replicate the same pattern. We will then need another Thompson and Darbyshire editorial titled: ‘Is academic nursing finally being buried by the heirs of the killer elite?’