As part of Motley’s celebration of International Women’s Day, we have delved into the rich academic life of our female teachers here in UCC. In this series some of UCC’s most impressive leaders pen letters to Mary Ryan, Ireland and UCC’s first female professor. Our fifth and final letter is from Dr Angela Flynn, School of Nursing and Midwifery, UCC

Dear Professor Ryan,

I’m so delighted to get this chance to write to you and tell you a little bit about how things are right now. I would imagine that you would find UCC a very changed place from how it was at the time of your appointment as the first woman Professor on the island of Ireland in 1910. My own field of work is nursing and nurse education, and I note that the same year of your appointment, also saw the death of Florence Nightingale, a woman often credited as being the founder of modern nursing. Like you, she was a woman that was very much ahead of her time. She also might find the world of nursing quite utterly transformed if she were to visit the world of nursing right now.

Our School of Nursing and Midwifery is a relatively new school in our historical university. Founded only 27 years ago, we have on average 1300 students registered across our undergrad and postgrad courses every year. We prepare nurses and midwives for careers in a very dynamic and challenging health care environment, and it has never been more challenging than it is now during the Coronavirus pandemic we are all currently living through. You would be so impressed by the incredible strength and dedication of our nurses and midwives if you could see them Professor Ryan! The word ‘frontline’ has often been overused and in your lifetime you saw many young people go to the frontlines of war never to return, or perhaps, returning forever scarred. The battles of our frontlines are now fought out on the floors of hospitals, in the rooms of clinics, in residential settings, in homes, classrooms, laboratories, and all the multiplicity of places where we work.

But we don’t work alone of course, we work with a range of disciplines across the spectrum of health professionals. As all-graduate professions, nurses and midwives work independently at the cutting edge of contemporary practice, embracing new technologies and innovations, carrying their own patient load, making challenging and difficult decisions every single day as autonomous practitioners. This is a very far cry from the notion of us as ‘handmaidens’ to doctors that might have been the public perception in years gone by! These developments have not come easy though. As I’m sure you know, they have come about through the hard work and dedication of trailblazers like yourself. As ever, we are standing on the shoulders of giants.

The World Health Organisation declared 2020 to be the first ever International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, and what a year it has been Mary! With the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic the recognition was extended into 2021 as nurses and midwives continue their trojan work on the frontlines. In a way though, it is the perfect year to recognise the role of nurses and midwives as the public and the policy makers are more aware than ever before of the centrality of our work to the health of any nation. All of a sudden, issues such as intensive care units, bed numbers, and staffing levels, for example, have become topics of general conversation and public knowledge. I hope this interest continues long after we have seen the back of this pandemic! All the health professions have been warning for years that we were far from well equipped to deal with these kinds of scenarios. You never know, they might listen more carefully to us in the future.

Our current challenge in our disciplines, Professor Ryan, is to enhance diversity among our ranks. You’ll know of course how important this is. We hope to finally put to bed the portrayal of nursing and midwifery as ‘female work’ so we are currently working hard at encouraging more boys and men  


to consider nursing or midwifery careers. There is strength in diversity and we all want a stronger health care system. It has been great to have this chance to write to you. You are in good company I am sure with all the amazing women of academia and of healthcare. Tell them we said thank you for preparing the ground for us.


Dr Angela Flynn