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Catch them while they're young

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 21, PAGE NO: 35

Tracy McFall BSc RGN OHN

If political parties have their work cut out trying to lure young voters, the nursing profession has just as big a public relations job in trying to attract young people into its ranks. One only has to look at the falling numbers in nursing education to realise that all is not well.

If political parties have their work cut out trying to lure young voters, the nursing profession has just as big a public relations job in trying to attract young people into its ranks. One only has to look at the falling numbers in nursing education to realise that all is not well.

Student financial hardship, lack of career progression and unsociable working conditions are only a few of the reasons many nursing students drop out before the end of their course. The age of students has steadily risen to the late 20s, so arguably this demonstrates that nursing is attracting fewer young people.

Nursing Times has stated as part of its election manifesto that the government should take positive action to attract young people who reflect their local communities.

To be fair, nurses are taking the lead in certain settings and there are some excellent initiatives around the UK trying to tackle diversity issues. In Scotland last month, RCN officer Lynn Masson gathered together a group of health professionals to take forward the diversity agenda.

I would argue that Scotland, despite having a multicultural society, has been slow to engage in this issue. It is hoped the above group will help promote culturally-sensitive patient care.

It's not enough to educate nursing students in these issues - we need to understand why nursing doesn't always attract young people from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds.

I don't subscribe to the view that you have to be Asian to provide the best care for another Asian person: good nursing care should be delivered to every patient, regardless of gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

However, I do believe that a nurse should be aware of a patient's culture and possible religious rituals when delivering care. I also think the nursing population should try to mirror the diversity of the UK population. If it does not, it should take positive action to identify and remove potential obstructions.

We need to highlight existing good practice and be clear what positive action we want the government to take. All nursing courses should have a strong emphasis on multicultural health issues.

More resources should be allocated to ensure there are nurses trained to teach diversity awareness to all health professionals.

With nearly a third of the nursing workforce retiring in the next five years, the need to attract younger people is stronger than ever. Nursing has its warts but it also has so much to offer.

If a young person asked me if they should become a nurse, I would be honest about the limitations but would also tell them about the wonderful opportunities and experiences that come with this profession. However, it might be a bit more difficult to tell them where to place their cross on June 7.

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