March 5, 2024

‘Don’t call them heroes’

The label could hurt healthcare workers

Healthcare workers in the coronavirus epidemic are everywhere being praised as heroes (except Russia – see the next story). They are risking their lives; they live in isolation; many become sick; some die. But labelling them as heroes a good idea, asks a feature in Stat.

First of all, “The hero image burns so bright that it eclipses any light shining on the failures of the system.”

It also masks the post-traumatic stress that many will experience. “The white noise of the hero complex deepens, widens, and obscures the human cost of this burnout epidemic.”

And then, “There is a genuine danger that if only an exclusive few are heroes, the rest of us won’t have to act heroically. If the heroes are taking care of everything, we can let up. The hero label has an isolating, immobilizing corollary: Their actions matter, mine do not.”

The experience of first responders to the 9/11 attacks shows that “the more space the hero label takes up, the harder it will be for them to authentically express themselves. It’s as though we’re saying, ‘Tell your story through the hero lens of our cultural imagination, or don’t tell it at all.’”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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