One of the fantastic but frightening things about social media is the ability to share information with lots of people very quickly – sometimes unintentionally. I suspect that Molly Case thought all she was doing was talking to colleagues at this year’s Royal College of Nursing Congress (a big enough adventure in itself for a 2nd year student nurse who was asked to share her thoughts with colleagues from across Britain). But since then, there has been a buzz about the You Tube clip of Molly’s talk and it was shown at the recent NHS Scotland event, generating much discussion about utilising it widely. Before you see and hear Molly for yourself let me tell you why I think it’s relevant.
In close to thirty years in nursing I have seen many changes in care and treatment but what hasn’t changed are the fundamental aspects of caring for an individual and their loved ones at a time of stress and crisis. No matter how technical nursing becomes, what people need to know is that someone cares about them, as an individual, and that leads me to a great debate which amazingly even now rages across and beyond nursing. Why do you need a degree to be a nurse?
I often hear people, including nurses, say that a degree is not what makes a good nurse. Of course, they are correct but having a degree doesn’t make you a “bad” or uncaring nurse. I will tell you why I think nurses do need it, despite being one of those people who, in the past, would have argued otherwise.
Our modern health care system health system demands technical clinical skills, informed decision-making, leadership and advocacy. The population has increasingly complex physical and mental health needs. Nurses are required to apply evidence based care and to demonstrate a level of critical and analytical thinking that was not expected in years past (the “good old days”). Then, nurses followed instruction, often without question, to administer medication and treatments simply because they were prescribed.
Thankfully, by the time I began my training, in 1983, we had begun to move away from that mind set. It was slow progress, not only amongst nurses but our medical and other colleagues had difficulty in accepting this shift and some still do. Ours was apprentice-style training, followed by what was often huge responsibility from early on in our careers. We became good clinical nurses and, in many cases, strong clinical leaders. We thrived on it. The truth, though, is that, unless we developed ourselves academically, there was little or no encouragement, until relatively recently, to pursue a route to degree level and beyond.
So…? What does that mean for today’s university trained nurses? Let me dispel a myth; student nurses still spend 50% of their training in clinical practice placements. More importantly, we are training nurses who have the skills to critically appraise what they see or what they measure and to use that information to make informed decisions about what to do next. Yes, they may lack some of the clinical skills we had on qualification. I guess the question is, though, whether you want a well prepared nurse with sound clinical knowledge who can pick up skills quickly; or someone who can carry out a task proficiently but doesn’t necessarily have the underlying understanding.
Let’s go back to Molly Case. In addition to the characteristics I have discussed, nurses have a fundamental role in ensuring compassion and empathy for people in their care. I am hopeful for the future of nursing when I meet our own staff and our local student nurses and when I hear Molly’s words in this clip, which you see by clicking here. She is responding to some of the criticism levelled at nursing; but look beyond that to her passion and then tell me that academic achievement and caring are mutually exclusive.
Alice Wilson is Associate Nurse Director at NHS Dumfries and Galloway
Next weeks blog will be by Peter Bryden, Risk, Feedback and Improvement Facilitator, and will be titled “I wish to register a complaint!”