OK, mini quiz.
Get yourself a biscuit, gather as many nurses as you can without people thinking you’re starting a choir and answer the following questions:
- When was the last time your line manager asked you if there was a course you would like to go on?
- When was the last time someone checked with you that your clinical supervision was satisfactory and you were getting what you needed from it?
- How often in the last three months did someone tell you as an individual you had done something particularly well?
- When were you last asked what you felt was needed to enable you and your colleagues to do your job better?
I’m not asking because I think I know the answers. I’m asking because I think political agendas are set by the questions people ask and of whom they are asked.
The world seems to be full of people making pronouncements on the death of compassion and the failure of nursing - and it is not a coincidence that such things are expressed when the government needs people to collaborate with public service wage cuts - but we are not asking the right questions of the nurses very often, are we? Indeed, it seems lots of people (politicians, bureaucrats, journalists and so on) ask questions about nursing but do it in a way that imagines nursing isn’t listening or treating it like a child sitting in on a parent-teacher discussion at parents’ evening:
“I don’t think Jenny likes biology,” offers the teacher.
“Oh she enjoys playing ‘Operation’ and tried to dismantle the cat once,” says dad.
“No, I think she’s more an arts boy,” argues the teacher.
“Really?” says dad. “We’ve always felt she’ll disembowel someone at some point. We’d rather hoped she’d get paid to do it.”
And silenced Jenny sits there, waiting for someone to ask her about her.
And, of course, the questions tend to be quite loaded and implicitly judgmental. Questions such as: “Why don’t nurses care any more?” Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter what the answer to that question is, the damage is done by the condemnation that sits within it.
“Are nurses too clever to care?” Well, no, but if I answer that stupid question I enter a world where being intelligent and being kind are not allowed to exist in the same body and I don’t want to go there.
Or is there any question that refers to the nurse as “modern”: “What has happened to the modern nurse?” Sounds neutral and invites the answer: “She demanded a better education, a qualification that carries an appropriate amount of social value rather than a badge and a hat, and has navigated more power in the clinical environment in order to offer more to the patient.” But instead, you’d probably get: “She stopped being lovely like those unmodern nurses were.”
In essence, the world is asking questions about nursing that seek to condemn it, judge it, belittle it and not value it. Maybe we can’t do much about that; we can’t rewrite the social commentary of the decade, we can only wait for it to pass, which it will - although it will have greatly damaged the morale, sense of purpose and working conditions of nurses everywhere.
In the meantime let’s seek out the nursing voice and ask more interesting and progressive questions about what might help. And by help I mean help the act, quality, progress and sustenance of nursing. Let’s not talk about it, let’s talk to it. And maybe let nursing set its own agenda.
Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness. Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe