A Canadian challenge in honour of nurse Edith Cavell

Susan Osborne travelled to Canada to join other healthcare professionals raising money for the Cavell Nurses' Trust charity

Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies is home to Mount Edith Cavell and a playground for trainee soldiers and the Special Army Service (SAS). It is not a place for the faint-hearted, so as a trustee of the Cavell Nurses' Trust I felt privileged to be part of a group participating in the Mount Cavell Challenge, a fundraising challenge arranged by the charity, which turned out to be quite an endurance test.

The aim was to raise funds for nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants and students in financial hardship. A team of more than 70 people signed up for the challenge, representing Universities of Wales, East Anglia and West England, NHS Professionals, the Royal College of Nursing, Premier Pensions and those associated with the charity or related directly to Edith Cavell. All paid their own expenses and raised funds for the #HelpForNurses initiative.

One of the unintentional consequences of the event was that it turned into a leadership programme. The other consequence of this good leadership was that there were no major accidents or serious trauma – just a few cuts and bruises – something that could easily have destabilised the group's plans.

For my part, I was in constant awe of the sheer grit and determination shown by student and senior nurses to complete the daily activities – not only climbing two mountains but rock climbing, hiking, glacier walking, horse riding, white water rafting and canoeing too.

Those who climbed the 3,363 metre-high mountain, mostly amateurs, started at 03.00 hours and completed the climb between 12 to 17 hours later. It was a gruelling endurance course undertaken by selfless individuals, working as a team, motivating and supporting each other to reach the top and achieve their goal. Two-thirds of the group managed to climb to the summit, with the other third reaching the ridge – an amazing achievement in itself.

I experienced this sound leadership even though I was not climbing the mountain. Instead, I completed two 10 kilometre hikes – which for me was tantamount to climbing the highest mountain – with a team that motivated me and helped me to finish. A couple of colleagues and I used the ‘Elephant’ concept, walking from ‘boulder to boulder’ to reach the end of the hike, eat lunch, have an ‘Ab Fab’ moment applying lipstick and hair coiffing, whilst admiring the snow-capped summit of Mount Edith Cavell from afar. It was truly an unforgettable experience.

It was evident that the nurses participating in the challenge were displaying the same behaviours they use every day when caring for patients, and which were the values of Edith Cavell herself: humanity, fortitude, sacrifice and courage. Many will be our future health service leaders and patients will be safe in their hands – a comforting thought.

The mayor and communities from Jasper welcomed us with open arms. We also met with the president of the Alberta Nurses Association and senior colleagues at a service held in memory of Edith Cavell at the foot of the mountain named after her. Afterwards, they generously hosted a lunch over which we shared professional experiences and concluded that there are serious worldwide issues related to nurse workforce planning and subsequent safe staffing levels. The need for international unity among the nursing professions is paramount to ensure patient safety is not compromised in any way, and that nursing is recognised as a valued profession.

You can find out more about the Cavell Nurses' Trust charity at

About the author

Susan OsborneSusan Osborne CBE
Chair of the Safe Staffing Alliance and trustee of the Cavell Nurses Trust

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