Everyone has an opinion on what makes a good nurse. Words such as kind, caring, empathetic, patient, efficient, compassionate, organised, giving and thoughtful trip off the tongue – and then there are the thorny question of cleverness and vocation.
Funny thing is, whatever words are used to describe a good nurse we all know one when we meet them.
In my experience good nurses are good people.
This was brought home to me when a friend died on Boxing Day after a long illness. She was a nurse and loved her job. I never worked with her but in her life she portrayed the all the characteristics of a good nurse. She had an endless capacity to give of herself and her time, she was always there when people in her community needed help, visiting the sick and recently bereaved. She motivated people to get involved and helped to raise huge amounts of money for charities and good causes.
Most of all, my friend cared about people. She noticed when those around her looked sad, discouraged or unwell. She touched everyone with her kindness.
So I am left wondering, are nurses born or can they be taught to be caring and compassionate? What makes a good nurse?
No one should be in any doubt that nurses need a high level of education and training, but they also need to come to the job with qualities that help them translate this education meaningfully into practice.
You can teach the elements of nursing but I am not convinced you can teach the compassion, empathy, kindness and care required to deliver good care. And there lies the challenge. We all know people who would make great nurses but don’t have the qualification to get in, and others who could easily pass the theoretical part of a course but lack qualities that a nurse should have.
In 2013, nursing is facing probably its most difficult time in decades. Publication of the Francis report on care at Mid Staffordshire will focus again on nurses’ failings and I suspect we will be engulfed in another debate about degrees and who is “too posh to wash”.
Although the report is likely to make for painful reading, the profession can ensure that it has a positive effect by using it to rebuild nursing. Perhaps the first step is to ensure our recruits to nursing have the right qualities and values and the NHS is prepared to support them to use these in practice.