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All-graduate nursing debate hots up as minister accuses detractors of sexism


Health minister Ann Keen has accused media commentators of sexism following yesterday’s coverage about nursing becoming a all-graduate profession.

Ms Keen launched a strongly worded attack on commentators who said nurses did not need degrees and should instead focus on “caring”, saying she believed the comments were motivated by sexism.

Speaking to the Chief Nursing Office summit in Newcastle yesterday she said: “I have really had enough of this. When do you stop? Do we need to go to school? Do not let them get away with patronising us.”

She told Nursing Times the perception would not be the same if nurses were not mainly female. She said: “This is a personal view. We are predominantly a female profession and I wonder about the status of nursing had it been all men. It is about ‘women’s work’.”

Nursing academics also added their weight to support for the move to all-graduate entry.

Council of Deans of Health chair Sue Bernhauser said: “We have strongly supported proposals for all nurses to be educated to degree level.

“Preparation at graduate level will be essential for new professionals to meet the future requirements and expectations in relation to the complexity and intensity of their roles, together with the need to extend and expand roles to reflect changes in patterns of healthcare delivery. Ultimately this move will help to continue and secure a dynamic and progressive workforce and a high quality of care for service users,” she added.

Professor Anne Marie Rafferty, head of the Florence Nightingale school of nursing and midwifery at King’s College London, said: “Research demonstrates that better educated nurses deliver higher quality care than less well prepared nurses. 

“We need to raise our game if we are to raise standards of care. Education is the only way to do this.”


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Readers' comments (21)

  • although i can see the reasons behind nursing becoming an all degree profesion, I qualified nearly 20yrs ago. i have neither a diploma nor degree, yet i have continuously updated my skills. I am a practical nurse not an accademic. I feel that i contribute my experince of doing what i consider a preactical role to students.
    recently on a day shift 2 patients asked me to explain what their diagnosis meant. after reading the medical notes and doing some research, i took the time to listen to each patients fears and give factual information and sign post them where they could find out more. each conversation took about 15 minutes. each patient told me that some of the younger less experienced staff had not wanted to explain things to them, saying that it was up to the dr's. these patients were then able to fully participate in their care and therfore were more likly to have a reduced stay in hospital. many newer nurse's lack basic communiation skills that are a vital part of nursing. will my skills be out dated, i fear so. will nurses like me be sidlined by those with degrees i fear so,,,

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  • Why are so many people determined not to move on. Every other health professional such as physios, SALTs, occupational health, dieticians ALL have degrees. Why is nursing trying so hard not to improve itself. Stop moaning and move on. It is a life long learning career choice. This is by the by but each of these professions make more money that nursing.

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  • It seems the arguments against all-graduate entry to nursing are coming from nurses without degree-level qualifications. Perhaps this is because they feel threatened by the progress being made and are worried about being left behind?

    The fact of the matter is that all the evidence demonstrates that despite their weightless arguments about "academic nurses" (I mean, really?) not providing good care, mortality rates are REDUCED as the proportion of graduate nurses increases.

    I am a nurse who undertook a DipN in the late 1990s. Admittedly I took that option as it provided better financial incentives as a student. Financial arrangements are not an acceptable argument against improving the education base of a profession!

    Since qualifying I have completed an honours degree and a masters degree, whilst working full time and completing a multitude of other professional development and training programmes. I can say whole-heartedly that as my education has expanded, so has my practice. As part of my role (which spans clinical practice, leadership and academia) I now teach both undergraduate and postrgraduate students in a country outside of the UK which has been all-graduate since the 1990s. Public surveys here tell us that nurses are the most trusted professional group.

    Arguing that "potentially good nurses" will be kept out of training because they cannot meet the academic demands of the course is a contradiction in terms. "Good" nurses need highly developed critical reasoning skills. They need to be able to understand, make sense of, utilise and communicate highly complex and often conflicting information in all formats - including writing. Being caring and compassionate are important but it is not enough.

    "Profession: a vocation or calling that involves a branch of ADVANCED LEARNING or science." Unquestioning, task-orientated technicians, however highly-skilled, are not professionals. They do not posses the ability to practice independently, with autonomy and providing direction for others. For those who want to care but cannot or do not wish to work at the level of a graduate professional nurse there are a raft of technical and support roles, in which they can work under the direction and supervision of registered professionals.

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  • Saying that diploma posts ending will barr students form entering the programme is not contradictory.
    Seeing as we don't have one the most self-confident professional self-views i think that we have many Na's who are graet but think the reality of the academic work is beyond them. Obviously it's not beyond anyone who can read and write and tolerate hearing useless info for 3 years, but the diploma was probably less scary sounding to them.

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  • With regard to the comments about excellent nurses being kept out of the profession as they are not academic enough to do a degree. Do you argue this point for doctors, physiotherapists etc.

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  • I can't stand those people who say 'i'm not academic, i'm practical'. Where well do you think your training came from? Academia? Erm , yes!!

    If you don't consdier yourself academic then why are you doing a job currently reserved for educated professionals?
    If you aren't academic how can you describe your job as anything other than a series of tasks with predictable outcomes?

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  • Nurses can be caring and academic, and I wonder if some of the comments here might indicate a fear of change. Going the academic route very much enhances and challenges nursing as a profession, it encourages questioning and reflection on what they do and why they do it and how this can benefit their patients. It does not compromise their ability to be caring professionals. How often have we heard complaints from nurses that they have no autonomy or do not get the respect they deserve. As with other professions nursing too has to progress and
    develop and what other way is there for it to do so.

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  • Joining the nursing profession is a hard-earned privilege, not an entitlement and not a free-for-all. Just because somebody wants to be a nurse, does not meant they should be!

    Nursing is a hugely demanding role, if it is done well. That includes a large practical component, but practical skills are nothing more than learnt technical tasks if there is no independent body of knowledge behind them. That is what distinguishes a profession from a technical, semi-skilled occupation. Nursing has moved on from the days when it colluded with medicine as an obedient, subserviant workforce of single young women and the dedicated ageing spinsters!

    Widening the entry gate and reducing standards because you want to bump up the numbers and give everyone a shot is not going to help anyone! You cannot say that on the one hand you want to open the doors to everyone with a burning, romantic desire to be a nurse, and then complain that the end product is nurses who scrape through training and go on to struggle to practice independently, with the requisite knowledge, skill and confidence!

    At least the decision has now been made. We will move on and the nursing graduate will become the norm. Soon enough we will have something else to in-fight about. Post-graduate education and training will become the expected pathway for specialisation and progression, just like every other profession on earth. Maybe we will start to argue that our medical student colleagues should go back to the old style of training, working 80 hours a week and not spending so much time learning how to communicate effectively; or those overeducated surgeons, spending too much time pioneering minimally-invasive techniques when they could be doing it the good old-fashioned way? Perhaps not.

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  • What a load of rubbish. What is the problem with being labelled a 'caring' profession. I am proud to be part of a caring profession and do not see it as a sexist comment or even anything that leads into a sexism debate at all. Men care, men are nurses. Rather a lot of nurse management is male.
    on the degree level stuff anything that suggests that we should all have degrees to put us on par with doctors makes me mad! I could have done a medical degree, but chose to be nurse because I wanted not to be in a profession that is science based, but one where care of the patient and making a difference to that patient was more important than diagnosing or curing. I also know that some of the best nurses I have worked with could not have and would not even have entered nursing had they thought they had to do a degree.
    There is also the issue that I came into nursing after having done a degree in the Humanities. I did a shortened training programme to encourage graduates (with different degrees from History to Chemistry) - like myself-into nurse training. The course was excellent and had a waiting list.Sadly the UKCC ended the course in the 80s. I stayed a frontline nurse for 25years, and only recently have entered the academic world of research.
    You want ot encourage people into nursing widen and do not restrict the field.

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  • Having read through the numerous comments and threads of this issue I can see there are lots of good arguments for and against. Having qualified as an RGN without a recognised academic qualification I decided that to enhance my knowledge skills and practice to first work towards my diploma and then onto my degree. I am now currently studying towards my masters. This has all took some years however I did complete my diploma within 5 years of qualifying. I do feel that the academic study has enhanced my practice and they key to this was being able to relate theory to practice. I have worked with a few nurses who despite gaining thier degree then struggled to relate thier learning into thier practice and this was clearly evident by the level of care that was delivered by these nurses, and the end result was that the patient suffered. I do feel that the way forward is an all graduate profession however as suggested earlier this could be that a degree has to be obtained within 5 years of qualifying rather than having to do this initially, this would then not exclude people who would be put off by the initial 4 years training. Academic institutes will give you support and guidance to enable students to be able to pitch thier study and academic writing to degree level and students should make use of this support to enable them to gain there degree.

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