Leading nursing figures are establishing a not for profit body to attract recruits put off by the widely held opinion that nurses are “unambitious”, “put upon” and “passive”, Nursing Times can reveal.
The move follows concerns that, despite soaring numbers of applications to nursing courses, many strong candidates are being deterred by the profession’s poor image.
Nursing was seen as “hard, nasty, menial” work, with long hours, low pay and requiring empathy rather than expertise
Nurse directors at NHS London and NHS West Midlands are now setting up a social enterprise to inform the public, nurses and students about what nursing really involves.
The venture illustrates how urgent senior nurses regard the profession’s image problem.
NHS London chief nurse Trish Morris-Thompson said nursing’s image had been through a “very rocky period” following high profile failings involving nurses, such as those at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.
She said: “We know if we can do something to improve the brand of nursing, it will start to restore the general public’s faith in healthcare by nurses.”
This would help to encourage more people to enter the profession, as well as reducing university attrition rates and improving care, she added.
The social enterprise will run a website, to be sponsored by private companies such as nursing agencies, providing information on nursing careers, research funding and universities.
In addition to demonstrating the range of nursing opportunities available, it will track nurses’ careers and eventually provide data such as patient surveys and nurse sensitive metrics.
The move, the final details of which are being signed off, is the strategic health authorities’ response to research they have carried out revealing nursing is not seen as an attractive career by the “vast majority” of the public.
Findings shared with Nursing Times reveal that members of the public, who were interviewed in 81 research sessions, commonly described nurses as overworked, underpaid, patient, stoic, put upon, unambitious and passive.
Nursing was seen as “hard, nasty, menial” work, with long hours, low pay and requiring empathy rather than expertise.
A record 108,000 people applied to nursing degree courses this year, with a further 86,000 applying for foundation degrees and other qualifications, suggesting there were around 10 applicants for each place.
This is around 75 per cent more than in the previous year, a rise attributed to the recession.
But Council of Deans chair Sue Bernhauser said the huge surge had not led to a rise in standards and had instead made it “harder to sort the wheat from the chaff”.
She did not agree the negative image was due to problems with the standards of newly qualified nurses, but welcomed the attempt to inform the public.
However, Central and North West London Mental Health Foundation Trust director of nursing and operations Andy Mattin said: “There’s a concern about people who have completed a [pre-registration nursing] programme and don’t meet the required standards.”
The trust has introduced an assessment centre for newly qualified nurses applying to posts, in an attempt to weed out the many unsuitable candidates.
On average, only 30 per cent of those attending assessment days passed basic literacy and numeracy tests equivalent to GCSE level.
Educating the public about nursing would attract a wider range of people into the profession who had the intellectual capacity and the necessary communication skills, Mr Mattin said.
The need to raise the calibre of students and newly qualified nurses has been identified in a series of reports in recent years.
The report of the Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery in March said “a new story of nursing” was needed to “recruit suitable talent and demonstrate that nurses are not poorly educated handmaidens to doctors”.
Nursing and Midwifery Council chief executive and registrar Dickon Weir-Hughes has previously raised concerns that some students were too emotionally fragile for the job.
The Image of Nursing: Findings from NHS London and NHS West Midlands research
Image of nursing
- Not an attractive or relevant career for the great majority
- Hard, nasty, menial work
- Low pay, long hours
- Requiring empathy, not expertise
Image of the nurse
- Overworked, underpaid
- Patient, stoic, put upon
- Passive, reactive, unamibitious
Reasons for misconceptions
- Lack of knowledge of becoming and being a nurse
- Absence of role models to help real understanding
- Challenge vague, generalised perceptions
- Stimulate new perceptions of the identity and role of nurses, as well as the benefits of being a nurse
Source: Quantitative research with 159 members of the public from target groups, across 81 research sessions
- 108,000 - number of applicants to nursing degree courses in 2010
- 20-28% - estimated attrition rate for UK nursing courses
- 37% - the amount of nurse mentors who told a Nursing Times survey they passed students in spite of question marks over their competence or attitude
- 30% - the proportion of newly qualified nurses passing basic numeracy and literacy tests at Central and North West London Foundation Trust