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Now is the time to ask questions

Claire Harries has a questioning mind and penchant for high standards - she asks ‘is that such a bad thing?’

Claire Harries_SNT

I was informed by a recent mentor that I have a ‘questioning mind’

At university, we are frequently reminded that now is the time to ask questions, make mistakes and simply be a student. We are told that we should ask our mentors and other qualified staff for advice and actively seek learning experiences when on placement. But how many of us actually feel confident enough to do this?

Do qualified staff feel able to ask questions of each other? Are questions welcomed or met with apprehension?

The provision of healthcare is continuallly evolving and I believe that questioning existing practice is, or at least should be, a pre-requisite of modern nursing. Patients and relatives are now more informed than they have been in the past. Wards and waiting rooms are full of people using their smart phones to research their condition, procedure or prescription. This has impacted on the nurse by making it even more important to remain up to date with legislation, guidelines and current affairs. 

We have to be sure we know what we are doing, and why we are doing it. Evidenced-based practice is a must, and within nursing, is achieved by developing and supporting patient-centred approaches using the most current evidence.

I was informed by a recent mentor that I have a ‘questioning mind’. I asked her to elaborate on this and was told that she didn’t mind in the slightest and would happily guide me as best she could. She then added that that some of the younger, newly qualified nurses had felt intimidated by me. This is a strong word, and I would hope that I never make anybody feel that way. I only ask questions because I’m interested. I understand that a nurse can’t possibly answer everything, especially one that’s only been qualified a year.

As students, we attend placements to learn and soak up information like a sponge. We strive to prove our competence, but how do we do this without appearing overconfident? Nobody wants to be remembered as the student who thinks they know it all. Equally, I’m sure there won’t be many who’d like to be remembered as the student who doesn’t know anything. I’m now a little dubious about showing my abilities in practice, as a result of being asked if I was asked if I was a ‘spy’ whilst at a placement in my first year. Apparently, I knew too much to be a student! This, combined with being 30, meant I met the criteria for being an NHS spy! I wonder if it pays well?

The NMC clearly states that nurses should act as advocates for their patients and do their best to ensure their wishes and needs are met. How can nurses do this if they are unable to confidently express their own thoughts inter-professionally, for fear of offsetting the equilibrium? We need to encourage a questioning approach from students and let them flourish now so that when they are qualified, they are able to critically evaluate the practice of others, and their own.

The key to powerful thinking is powerful questioning. When we ask the right questions, we find the right answers and information must flow in all directions for a system to benefit. My questions are not driven by ego - I’m simply a student, trying to find out what’s best for the patient, best for my education and best for the future of our health service.


Claire Harries is Student Nursing Times’ learning disabilities branch student editor

Readers' comments (12)

  • michael stone

    'Do qualified staff feel able to ask questions of each other? Are questions welcomed or met with apprehension?'

    This is interesting - and it is something that was discussed on NT a while back.

    There is quite a lot of potential for 'if I ask about this, will everyone think I'm an idiot' to get in the way (for students and qualified staff alike) - but quite often, if one person says 'I don't understand ...' a veritable forest of arms will shoot up, with a chorus of 'I don't get that, either !'.

    And as an aside, I think you will find that by the time people get to be consultants and professors, they are perfectly aware of the gaps in their own understanding, and often admit to that more easily than more junior staff. This is probably because they know they are unlikely to be 'taken for a fool'.

    Keep asking ! And you are correct, that finding the right question is the main key - in fact, sometimes simply by formulating the 'right' question, the answer becomes obvious.

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  • You make some very good points in this blog. You're right about the need for people to feel confident and comfortable in asking questions. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

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  • This is an age old issue in every walk of life.

    The university should be telling you that you should never stop asking questions and you might as well get used to the certainty that you will always make mistakes. It is because universities and practice environments don't teach this that people run into problems when they qualify.

    Don't make the mistake of believing that you know ' too much to be a student'. You don't, simple. I haven't mentored a student who didn't have a questioning mind, regardless of age, so that shouldn't be considered unusual or worthy of remark. I'm a bit puzzled at why you think that you are intimidating people. Perhaps it could be the way you ask questions, not the fact that you're asking them. Nursing is about a lot more than facts.

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  • Thanks for the comments. Our university does encourage us to ask questions, and you're right - it could be the way I ask. Who knows? It's a difficult balance. Sometimes you can ask a question which makes you look like a fool and other times people think you're trying to catch them out. I know a few students who are wary of asking questions because of this.

    Also, I don't think I'm intimidating people and certainly don't claim to 'know too much' haha, far from it. I know that we all learn things everyday, even when you've been in a job for 30 years- there's room for improvement. I've been lucky and had some very good mentors at my placements.

    As for nursing being about more than facts, of course it is, so thank you for adding that. Experience definitely goes a long way.Although, I suppose facts and evidence behind our practice comes in handy these days when it comes to litigation etc.

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  • Claire Harries | 13-Dec-2013 10:40 pm

    "As for nursing being about more than facts, of course it is, so thank you for adding that. Experience definitely goes a long way.Although, I suppose facts and evidence behind our practice comes in handy these days when it comes to litigation etc. "

    It was a common feature of my training to constantly throw in the 'litigation' argument to make nurses fearful of consequences. Seems that little has changed. In 30 years, I have never worked with anyone who has been sued. Even the apalling care at Mid Staffs has been allowd to pass with hardly a consequence for those who were criminally at fault.

    The evidence behind our practice is there to provide us with the knowledge to carry out our jobs to improve care and outcomes for our patients. Nursing is about more than facts. What we now term as emotional intelligence is equally important. Amongst other things, it can help us understand how the way we behave affects those around us.

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  • Spot on. I've never worked with anyone who's been sued either. Emotional intelligence - I like it.
    Anyway, my name is Claire, pleased to meet you.

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  • I know that your name is Claire though I don't think we have met.

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  • Haha, I know. I was just being polite.

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  • Gerry Jones

    Claire rhe role of a mentor is to advise the are experienced and know how to adress issues

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  • Gerry Jones

    y missing sorry

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  • Yes, I know. Ive been very lucky and had some good mentors. Im always grateful to learn whatever I can from them. Thanks Gerry.

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  • Gerry Jones

    Yes it's quite encourageing to see your enthusiasm. As someone who has suffered from mental health issues for 10 years and recently suffered a major set-back, it's great to see new professionals emerge.

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