Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Good staff must be helped to shine – not burn out


Most people’s experience of nursing is, essentially, random. They don’t get to choose when they meet you, how busy you are or what you experienced just before coming to them. Ironically, most of the people who meet nurses would probably prefer not to have to.

If we conducted a poll I suspect most people would say they “liked” nurses - or at least the idea of them - more than, say, guitarists or pizza delivery people but, given a choice, they would prefer to meet the guitarist going about his or her business than a nurse. Mostly, we probably think nurses are good people but, on the whole, would prefer not to find out.

Two friends of mine were talking to me about nurses recently. One had spent a lot of time with a dying relative. A former nurse himself he reflected (some time later) that the nursing was “as variable as he would have expected”. However, he spoke of a nurse “towards the end” reminding him of how nursing offers a unique opportunity to be remarkable, and what sort of mark an outstanding nurse can leave.

‘If we conducted a poll I suspect most people would say they “liked” nurses - or at least the idea of them - more than, say, guitarists or pizza delivery people’

He said that he didn’t notice at the time how easy she made it for him to stagger through decision making or how patient, gentle and warm she had been. He described her presence as “transcendent”.

More recently, another friend was referred by her GP as a matter of urgency to a specialist service only to be assessed andpretty much dismissed by a senior nurse with the communication skills and emotional intelligence of the angry fur ball who used to play drums on The Muppet Show. Sentences including “I don’t know why you were referred here” marked the nurse out as better suited to hosting The Weakest Link rather than a clinical service.

Now we all know that everyone can have a bad day and a few of them together do not make bad nurses, although they may mark us out as capable of bad nursing.

What’s more, we also know that there are some people nursing who really shouldn’t be doing the job. We don’t like to talk about it because we think it reflects badly on us - either because they are nursing and give the profession a bad name or, more often, because we wonder if we should do more about it when we see it.

We know that some poor nursing happens and that some of the people who do it recurrently seem to get away with it. And it may be the case that sometimes nursing culture sustains that wrongness, doesn’t it?

But I wonder if the same nursing culture manages to sustain the outstanding nursing exhibited by the staff nurse to my grieving friend. Have we managed to create systems of support, supervision or professional values that will enable that nurse to carry on being excellent? Or might that brilliance be lost to mediocrity? Or exhaustion?

There are good, bad and brilliant nurses. More good than bad I believe. But, when nurses shine, is the profession set up to protect and support them? Or do we - more often than we should - simply let them burn themselves out?


Readers' comments (4)

  • It does not matter how good you are when you are young
    you will always have a group of 50 year olds in senior position who are comfortable and do not want to be bothered with your good ideas. So restrained and constrained and indoctrinated into the NHS that they openly condone poor practice, bad management decisions etc and they say nothing and do nothing.

    weak senior nurses who are more mumsy than managerial are to blame for a great deal of professional weakness.
    beacuse they are mothers and wives first they hav eno real interet about the ob in its entirety.
    the nly way good young nurses will get through is to train them, with courses, something senior nurses have done nothing to ameliorate.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • this does not only happen to you younger ones. I am in my 50's work on the community as a specialist nurse been in health care 36 years but find my good ideas are dismissed out of hand by managers younger than me. Any way I have had enough and will be leaving the NHS soon. My health is suffering too much. Ever heard of 'tall poppies'

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Mark,I have read your columns with great interest and affinity over the past how knows how many years.......many,many thanks. You've been like a breath of fresh air,always pulling no punches,whatever your views are. Perhaps I haven't agreed with everything you've said down through the years,but I've always stopped and thought......
    I've just passed my half century on planet Earth,I still love my job,regardless of the trials and tribulations I've faced. Hope you do's too short,eh?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • But the difference is that there are fe young nurses who are truy dynamic and are ideas peopl. most want to get down to the job they trained for, but those with their eyes on the horizon it is difficult to achieve your potential when you are hemmed in by the KSF, a total lack of training and funding and an audience of already disillusioned unhappy people.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.