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Don't be a victim

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 46, PAGE NO: 33

Bernard Place, PhD, MSc, RGN

A nurse told me recently that everywhere she turns she hears how the NHS is under-resourced, the nurses are dispirited, the service is pressured, and the patients are unappreciative and demanding. Given this, she was puzzled as to why she did not feel demotivated.

A nurse told me recently that everywhere she turns she hears how the NHS is under-resourced, the nurses are dispirited, the service is pressured, and the patients are unappreciative and demanding. Given this, she was puzzled as to why she did not feel demotivated.

She works on a ward with high morale and regularly receives positive feedback from both her manager and her patients. Although she is, as she put it, 'just a staff nurse', she really feels that nursing offers her the opportunity to develop in ways she is looking forward to: to be challenged, to be creative, to make a difference and, yes, to work bloody hard in what she knows at times will be a frustrating system.

As I began to think how I might reply, she announced that she did not really care what she read or heard from others, because she had made a conscious decision about the kind of nurse she wanted to be. She finished our conversation with the words: 'I will not be a victim nor will I behave like one.'

It struck me that with this simple phrase she was able to map out both a direction for her career and a professional philosophy that would guide her working relationships.

Being a victim or behaving like one is often an easy option. I am not referring to victims who have little or no choice in the circumstances of their own victimhood. Many people are subjected to violence and intimidation with little opportunity to respond. But for others - and I include nearly all nurses, midwives, and health visitors - choices do exist.

Every time a boorish and egocentric doctor berates you on the ward, as well as demonstrating his own inadequacy (and it is usually a him) he offers you a choice. To behave like a victim. Or not. To accept and sustain this behaviour so that others might, in turn, be subjected to it, or to say calmly that such behaviour is below the standard you expect of a doctor.

I use this example, not through some perverse delight in doctor-bashing. I know of too many first-rate medical colleagues to do that. However, it is hard not to notice the commonalty of hugely egocentric traits in the doctors who find themselves up before the General Medical Council and those, such as Shipman, who never make it because other, more serious, processes intervene.

There is nothing wrong with a robust exchange of views. But such exchanges can be characterised by respect for a plurality of views. Courtesy for colleagues is usually mirrored by respect for patients.

High standards of personal and professional behaviour are key contributors to clinical governance and to the protection of patients' interests.

Whether 'just' a staff nurse or 'just' a director of nursing, we have choices about determining the types of relationships we have with those we work with. Like my wise staff nurse colleague, we each need to decide whether we will be victims or behave like victims. Or not.

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