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Are nurses born or made?

  • Comments (21)

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.

  • Comments (21)

Readers' comments (21)

  • I love this blog and it raises so many points - I agree good nurses are generally good people. I believe that compassion is a human trait that we all have but to give compassionate care we do need the rights skills, the right environment and the right support. Compassion needs to be nurtured and cherished in order for it to grow and flourish. The start of 2013 will be challenging for nursing but if we support each other and look forward we can use the Francis report positively as you have described to ensure that a culture of compassionate care is apparent in every organisation and that each and every patient receives the care they need.

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  • Anonymous

    how do you switch off all the porno attached to key words in this article? Is it associated with NT? It looks as if they are being paid to advertise on their site which does not reflect professional nursing values or a good image of the profession.

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  • Anonymous

    sorry was preoccupied with all these ads that keep popping up and somebody who said they are a virus. It is very strange, irritating and of concern.

    Excellent article and I agree with every point and can't find much else to say at the moment other than to further emphasise the importance of recruiting the most suitable candidates which may not always be the easiest task to get it right every time but at least the best possible means of assessment should be sought. It also begs the question of whether some nurses start with all the right qualities and some how lose some of them during the course of their job which may merit further study to enable those with difficulties to continue in their chosen career and give their very best.

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  • David Foord

    Great article very well written. I agree with most of what is said, but do think that empathy can be 'taught' or at least, the potential to act in an empathetic manner can be developed in people. Much work outside of the healthcare industry in this area in more general customer service and some good examples and evidence of this from Jamie Lywood: http://www.empathy.co.uk/home

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  • Anonymous

    i will have to ask my mummy if I came out with a frilly hat on and a fob watch attached to my belly button.

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  • Tinkerbell

    perhaps we're barking up the wrong tree. Maybe we should be researching psychopaths and whether you can be born without empathy or compassion or did you become that way. Let's see if they can be made to fake it until they make it.

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  • Anonymous

    Anonymous | 9-Jan-2013 6:59 pm

    There is a higher incidence of BPD and Narcissistic PD reported in the caring professions than there is psychopathy.

    According to the website below psychopaths don't tend to choose the caring professions as a career.

    From Barking up the Wrong Tree

    http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2012/11/professions-most-fewest-psychopaths/

    Which professions have the most psychopaths? The fewest?
    By Eric Barker


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  • Anonymous

    I think there is truth in not being able to teach empathy. I think a lot of people went to university/college with other student nurses and wondered why and how they were doing nursing....

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  • Anonymous

    you probably cannot teach empathy to somebody suffering from alexithymia but then they most probably would not choose nursing in the first place. I would imagine that those who are not compassionate or do not understand empathy and have no desire to help others would not choose nursing as a career. surely you can't have a wish to help others if you do not have these qualities and this would suggest that they somehow get lost on the way.

    there seems to be confusion between compassion and empathy in some posts. maybe you cannot teach compassion but if you have it you can possibly develop empathy through good interpersonal skills, many of which have to be learned. cf the teachings of Carl Rogers

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  • Nursing is like any other profession. If anyone choose nursing as a profession, one should be committed to it and have all the necessary requiments for the job. Learning on the other hand helps to enhance your job. A good nurse has to have both. Owing to our socity today, nursing has attracted the wrong people who choose nursing because it is another profession to earn a living.

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