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'Having a degree does not necessarily make you a better nurse'


Tarnia Taverner looks at the differences between nursing in the UK and Canada, starting with the impact of an all graduate profession.

In the summer of 2009 I relocated to Vancouver BC, Canada with my family to take up the position of assistant professor in the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia.

Vancouver is a wonderful city and driving into work is a pleasure rather than a chore, compared to driving to work in London its a breeze. My view on the way to work consists of mountains in front of me and the sea to my left.

So how did I go from my basic nurse training to working as assistant professor at the University of British Columbia?

I entered a registered general nursing program in the UK quiet a few years ago, at a small nursing school in the south of England. I had always wanted to be a nurse and have never regretted that decision. I thoroughly enjoyed my nurse training but at the time did think it should have been more academically informed. After many years as a clinical nurse working in many different areas, predominantly as a nurse specialist in pain management but also as a matron for a primary care trust, I chose the path of academia. I believe my clinical background will make me a better educator and researcher.

Nursing as a career has given me so much opportunity in so many ways. As far as I’m concerned nursing is a privilege, we should never take our work for granted and we should always be aware of the positive impact our work has on society. As nurses we enable the basics of human needs such as dignity, nutrition, hygiene, comfort and health maintenance. The basics of nursing should underpin everything we do as professionals. Without considering the basic needs of our patients’ we neglect the human principles of health and essentially life. Nursing is unique it requires us to become involved with people and assist people at their most venerable. Wherever we are in the world nursing will form a part of that society, nursing as a profession is essential to the health and success of any society. After all a society should be judged on how it cares for its most venerable citizens.

The nursing program at the University of British Columbia has been in place since 1919 and UBC was the first university in the British Empire to offer a nursing degree. It’s a popular course; we had over 400 applicants for 120 places this year.

What I find interesting is that no matter where you do nursing in the Western world, the same issues arise. Nursing shortages, health care cuts, waiting lists, etc…

One difference between nursing in the UK and nursing in Canada is the requirement that all nurses new to the profession enter with a nursing degree. The degree issue is particularly pertinent because the UK is moving into an all degree prepared profession. I believe this to be a positive move and one that I would support. However, it’s a difficult one; some of the best nurses I’ve had the pleasure to work with did not hold degrees. Having a degree does not necessarily make you a better nurse. However, it may make you better informed and would certainly address the issue of understanding evidence based nursing, which is crucial to all nursing professionals. Furthermore, as a degree prepared profession it gives the profession more kudos and equality amongst other healthcare professions.

This is very obvious when I observe nursing in Canada, they appear to have more respect as a profession and this is demonstrated by their pay and employment conditions. However, in some areas they don’t appear to have as much autonomy as we do in the UK, this is evident with regard to nurse prescribing and having to adhere to “doctor’s orders”.

Working in Canada is a wonderful experience for me, it has presented some challenges particularly with regard to the process of immigration. I am certainly “form fatigued”. Furthermore, one may assume same language, same culture, but this is not the case. Canadians may speak English but the culture is at times, worlds away from the UK culture. But then what is the UK culture, we are a mass of different cultures, very similar to British Columbia in-fact. Although as British citizens we share a love of chicken tikka massala and the great British comedy. Thank goodness for DVDs that’s all I can say, what would I do without my weekly dose of British comedy?

About the author

Tarnia Taverner is an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.


Readers' comments (16)

  • Oh god here we go again.

    Look, the current training programmes that have been around for the past two years, the diploma and the degree, have too little between them to really differentiate. In that respect no the degree is not better than the diploma.

    But I think that this is only the case because the diploma has adopted many of the degree's characteristics and benefits. Both are 3 years long, both have equal time in the lecture hall and on the ward (give or take depending on individual uni's, and yes they do differ a lot from uni to uni), they have similar course content (again dependent on individual uni's). Both have certain academic standards that are applied to ensure that Nurses are at the very least academically competent enough to work in the profession, etc etc etc.

    The only real difference is the degree course has an extra module and a very slightly higher marking criteria in the final year that very few diploma students would not be able to cope with, indeed many do go onto do their degrees after qualifying, having chosen to do the diploma for logistical or financial reasons.

    So in this respect, the degree is not better, no.

    But in every other respect, a degree is essential for a modern Nurse. Like this article states (contrary to its inflammatory headline) it instills knowledge and skills that are essential for a Nurse.

    It also puts us on par with every other profession in the MDT. I'm sorry but I think that a Nurses body of knowledge is at the very least equal to a medical or a pharmacological body of knowledge for example (at the very least), yet are we the only profession who still thinks we should not have a degree? Get real!

    The truth is that modern society demands a certain level of qualification to give a body of knowledge weight and authority, and if our profession is going to have the respect and weight I believe it deserves in the NHS, then Nurses with Degrees is the very very least the profession needs.

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  • The real truth is that currnursing education whether degree or diploma teaches so little science that it matters not what qualification ths withe student graduate.
    Whilst we are wasting ourr time on analyzing what hospitalization is like for patient our common body of knowledge of nursing is quite poor with newly qualified staff having an incredible range of ability from poor to brilliant.

    In essence our training relies on the student to fill in the gaps of what nursing educators are unwillnig or unable to provide which is in depth knowledge about the body (in adult nursing), good general knowledge re pharmacology and a lack of clinical skills regarding observations and their very meaning.

    Degree or not unless the profession moves away from psuedo-science to actual science the degree will count for very little.
    Having said that i have always found the diplomates to be more driven.most of us like myself simply couldn't be bothered to live on half a student loan and no bursary just because our parents had the audacity to earn more than £20000 a year.

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  • Now that Jjez I absolutely agree with.

    The Nursing degree does need a complete reboot, concentrating on modules of A&P, Pathophysiology, pharmacology and skills labs. The washy communication and sociology modules just aren't as important.

    And the whole attitude of 'go away and learn it yourself' as adult learners really pisses me off. I mean what is the point of even turning up to lectures if that is the case? We may as well sit at home and read a book!

    It does need to change, you are right. But when it does, it still needs to be at degree level.

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  • Sweet, i mean at least if the course was scientific those BSc's would be valid because right now i personally believe they have no real right to call it a BSc

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  • You have a serious point there mate. I think the Nursing body of knowledge does involve a lot of science, A&P, pharmacology, etc. So the body of knowledge itself is worthy of that title, and the vast majority of Nurses deserve that title because we do 'go away and learn it in our own time', we have to, we have no choice because the job demands it. But the education IS failing us, DipHe AND degree.

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  • agreed. we do neeed to reboot nursing and remove entirely the rose tinted romanticism of yesteryear. Other countries are light years ahead of us yet out nursing elite carry on as if they invented nursing and our version is the best. But it is worth remembering that:

    (i) Florence Nightingales contribution to Nursing was in statistics and the strategic organization of the care of military personnel not people, which actually did not translate well to hospital care seeing as unlike the military healthcare was not available to the general public for another 38 years after she died

    (ii) She trained in Germany, so goodbye any claim to Florence having invented and branding a form of Nursing. She used her German training to her advantage

    (iii) She was against registration of nurses, delusionally thinking that it was a persons character and not their knowledge than made one agood nurse

    We need new Nursing heroes and a progressive and modernist school of Nursing that respects science, information and knowledge rather than insisting that the clinically unsound past was better than nursing today.

    Nursing is better than ever, it's just that there are a whole lot less staff than even 30 years ago and there was a whole lot less to do back then.

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  • the world would be a better place if more value was placed on nursing as a career. I don't think higher salaries would be the answer because then it might attract people for the wrong reasons....
    Do you think anyone that goes into nursing goes into it for the money?
    Like any profession there are good and bad the bad need to be weeded out and the good need to be compensated.
    Perhaps there should be nurse of the year awards and other recognition type awards.
    People don't realize what a great job nurses do until they or a loved one ends up in hospital.
    The Western World has become very selfish and people now seem to value material items over anything else. It would be good for corporate companies to lead the way and allow their staff to do a few days a year volunteer work. This would make them see that their is more to life than earning the big salary and buying the biggest TV!

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  • Anonymous | 22-Jul-2010 3:08 am, it isn't that I don't agree with you on the money point, I mean you are right in that none of us got into it for the money. However, that does not mean that we should not expect fair renumeration for our work. We are one of the lowest paid professional groups in the country, comparable key workers (teachers/police/etc) all get a higher starting salary than we do, and considering the fact that we have to sacrifice a lot and practically work for free for three years to qualify, and the high level of skill, knowledge,qualifications, accountability and responsibility that we have, is it fair that a HCA or an admin worker with no quals in an office can earn only a fraction less than us? Is it fair that a binman can actually earn more? I don't think so. And I don't think it is unreasonable to expect a higher level of starting pay.

    I don't agree that higher pay would attract the wrong sort of people to the profession, they simply wouldn't last if they were just in this for the money (and yes I know there are always the odd one or two that slip through).

    There are already Nursing awards, and to be honest I think all they do is perpetuate the self congratulatory up their own arse culture that our 'leaders' like Beasley and Milton personify. In that respect, we ALL deserve an award for putting up with this profession. What would be a better reward for Nurses is to have our good work recognised with a good, healthy working envioronment where we are not taken advantage of daily and a fair pay system that renumerates us for the work and sacrifice we put in.

    I do agree however that public perception of us needs to change, and Nursing does need to be seen as a valued career. Perhaps a strike (that has been talked about in other threads for numerous reasons) would remind the public just how indespensible to the country we are. Without us, they have no NHS. Without us, they have no care. And you honestly believe that level of importance denotes such a comparitavely low wage?

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  • Raising the bar is all well and good but in my opinion the salary, prospects and working conditions also need to rise in line with the increased expectations. I can't think of (though I am sure some of you may chip in with examples) of any other profession that pays it's graduates so poorly - or fails to facilitate ongoing professional learning.
    I've got a diploma in mental health nursing and was lucky enough to be seconded from a full-time job within the trust. I'd have seriously considered giving up my job to undertake a bursary supported diploma course but to self fund a degree, not with a mortgage and bills to pay. I'd already gained an English degree and could not have justified incurring yet more debt for so little financial reward - I'd have been better off continuing my job as a HCA.
    If we want to attract good quality people to nursing we need to ensure that we offer them a decent package - and ideally we want to not just attract them but encourage them to stay. So bring back our NHS pension!

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  • Unfortunately, all your education didn't teach you to spell correctly....

    I entered a registered general nursing program in the UK quiet a few years ago

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