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Care with compassion is what defines nursing


If you know someone who is applying for their nurse training this year, or looking to get their first band 5 job, you can reassure them that they will not be greeted, as they sit down nervously to face the interviewers, with: ‘Hello, what is the capital of Peru?’ or ‘Thanks for coming, now would you begin the interview with a rap please?’

Invariably, the first question they will face will be: ‘So why do you want to be a nurse?’ It will be asked with a smile and the presumption that the candidate will have thought about it at some point and therefore be put at ease as they answer.

However, when that question is met with a shrug or, worse, something like: ‘I couldn’t get on the media studies course until next year’, we tend to know we’re in trouble. Although that doesn’t stop us asking something like: ‘What do you think you might bring to the role of student nurse?’

‘Pencils,’ said one candidate, who might have missed the big ‘Nursing’ sign over the door she was about to exit through.

I mention this in the light of the Nursing Times report into NHS trusts beginning to develop ways of assessing how compassionate nurses seeking employment with them appear to be.

‘I won’t have to have anything to do with the pale people in the beds, will I? And will I have my own office?’

Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust is designing a tool to test compassion. Its nursing director says: ‘We have been getting a feeling from some applicants that they weren’t coming into the profession because they want to offer compassion but because of the money and the fact it is considered to be a stable career.’

I have had that feeling a few times, too. One can pick up the subtle hints from candidates who ask questions like: ‘I won’t have to have anything to do with those pale people in the beds will I?’

‘The patients, you mean?’

‘Patients, you call them? Moany sick people, I say. And will I have my own office?’
The most remarkable thing about this initiative is that it requires an initiative at all. Surely, it should be the foundation of recruitment for any role in nursing. Does the candidate have the qualities, capacity and potential to be compassionate or, to put it another way, to labour emotionally?

Without that, they won’t actually be nursing, will they? They will be performing some tasks in an organised fashion having hopefully demonstrated a range of competencies that, when gathered together, label them as ‘adequate’.

To begin to articulate the essence of nursing, we need to move beyond the nonsense that imagines nursing to be some sort of ‘science’ and recognise it as an activity that distils the most distinctive of human qualities - generosity, compassion, a capacity to care for others meaningfully - into a sustainable working life. We build the knowledge and skills on to that foundation and, in so doing, we define ‘nursing’ as a unique profession.

The trust is doing a useful thing. But I can’t help thinking that we should have been doing it all along.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Actually I really don't think nursing is this 'vocation' that is talked about so much; any more so than medicine is and that is clearly defined as a science. Nursing should be seen as a scientific profession and we need to get out of the dark ages of being seen as some handmaiden who just mops brows.

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  • I think all nursing begins with compassion without this any real connection with patients is lost and the capacity for deep healing diminished.

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  • I recall one of Cath Jackson's cartoons from NT, many years ago now:

    Matron interviewing nursing candidate, looking bored and drumming fingers on desk: "Don't tell me, let me guess- you want to help people."

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  • I agree with this being introduced and I have to say since starting my nursing course(I'm in my 3rd year now)I have been shocked by the unfriendly attitude of so many staff in hospitals.I'm not sure if it is just directed at student nurses but it is certainly not the caring and kind attitude that I had expected to encounter at all.At times it has even made me question whether I want to enter the profession at all so I welcome any move to get rid of the rather unfriendly and bullying atmosphere that seems to exist within the NHS both for staff and patients alike.

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