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Do nurses unwind with a cigarette or a stiff drink? And where do they take their retail therapy? Emma Vere-Jones reveals all the key results of NT’s 2007 Lifestyle Survey.

What constitutes a typical nurse? At NT we surveyed our readers’ likes and dislikes to find out.
Here are some of the basics. Of the 3,753 respondents to our survey, 55% are married and a further 17% co-habiting, leaving 28% footloose and fancy-free. Four out of ten respondents do not have children and of those who do, most have two – a plucky 5%, however, have opted for four or more.
Over a quarter do not own their own home, although one in five said they would be looking to buy within the next year. Affordability remains an issue but, surprisingly, 74% said they wouldn’t consider buying a key worker property.
When it comes to healthy lifestyles patients often look to health professionals as role models. Nurses know only too well the importance of recommending regular exercise and five fruit and veg a day to patients but how do they fare when it comes to following their own advice?
Unfortunately more than a third of respondents admitted not playing any sport or doing regular exercise. ‘I would love to but I just don’t have the time,’ says Jacqui Connell, education and development practitioner, Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, echoing the most common reason nurses gave for not being able to exercise regularly.
For those who do exercise, a trip to the gym proved the most common activity – almost 24% said they attended exercise classes. The most popular sports outside the gym were cycling, running and yoga.
Paul Cornforth, a nurse consultant in a walk-in centre in South London, is a recent convert to the gym: ‘I never used to do anything at all but I was 22 stone with a BMI of over 35. I’ve lost six stone recently and started going to the gym. I get a shock every time I look in the mirror.’
The NT survey also reveals that many nurses are partial to a drink and the odd cigarette. Some 14% of respondents admitted they smoked. According to anti-tobacco lobby group ASH, this figure is significantly below the UK average of 24% and slightly below the average for people working in managerial or professional roles, which is 18% for men and 16% for women.
Jacqui, a non-smoker, admits the number of nurses who smoke is concerning. ‘It’s a bit worrying. You would have thought that having seen the evidence, nurses wouldn’t smoke – but they seem to think they’re immune,’ she says.
Low nursing pay can also be an influence. Maria Gough, senior nurse practitioner at Harlow NHS Walk-in Centre, says: ‘I did smoke when I started nursing originally but the wages were so dreadful I had to give up. I could either choose to eat or smoke but I couldn’t do both on that pay.’
Others have always been non-smokers or keen anti-smoking lobbyists from an early age. Paul, a non-smoker, says the habit is disgusting and recalls the first person he convinced to give up was his grandfather. ‘I went up to him at the age of three and said: “You smell”. He gave up after that.’
Nurses are much more likely to have a drink to unwind and wine is by far the most popular choice, with 46% admitting it was their favourite tipple. In the spirits cabinet, vodka is the most popular drink and gin their second choice.
When it comes to holidays, the survey reveals that almost half of all nurses go away once a year or less. ‘We have one holiday a year,’ says Jacqui. ‘It isn’t more often because of money really.’
Approximately a fifth holiday within the UK, double that figure say they tend to go abroad and the remainder split their holidays between the two.
Another interesting revelation is that nurses are pretty web savvy. Nearly half of respondents (46%) use the internet more than once a day and a further 39% use it daily. And with 96% of nurses using it at home, lack of access to computers at work means there’s no barrier to online shopping. ‘I just find it a very good way of finding what I want and it saves a lot of time,’ says Sheila Urqhart, community psychiatric nurse at Bradford District Care Trust. Jacqui adds that ‘it’s also cheaper because you don’t see all the temptations – you only order what you need’.
When it comes to shopping for clothes Marks & Spencer proves the favourite, where 57% of respondents buy their clothes, closely followed by Next (55%) and Debenhams (43%). But many revealed that clothes shopping is not high on their agenda. ‘It’s not really one of my favourite pastimes but that’s mainly because I’m too poor to afford anything nice,’ says Debbie, reiterating the comments of many.
Cost is also an issue when it comes to buying cars, with nurses’ pay forcing them out of the luxury-car market. The majority of nurses drive a car (91%) but affordability and practicality seem to be key issues for deciding on brand. Their most popular car choices are Ford (14%), followed by Vauxhall (11%) and Peugeot (8%).
‘I have a Vauxhall because that was the only car I could afford at the time I needed to buy one,’ says Paul.
So when it comes to lifestyles, it is clear money pays a large part in the choices nurses make. And if not money, then their social conscience might dictate other decisions. As Debbie says: ‘I currently drive a Subaru Legacy but am looking for something a little greener – I’m very aware that I’m driving a 2-litre car when I really don’t need to.’

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