Some of you may recall the kerfuffle that rippled through the profession when they decided that nurses should learn in universities rather than hospitals. Some were thrilled that nursing was being acknowledged as a career that required intelligence and the same type of preparation as doctors, dentists and professional geographers. Others felt nursing was being redefined as something to think about rather than do, something that had at its heart “ideas” rather than patients.
At the time, I was quite suspicious. I liked the fact that there was a recognition that being a good nurse required complex and considered preparation - what I thought of (and still do) as wisdom rather than just knowledge.
But I thought that universities would struggle to do educational justice to the development of the qualities that underpinned good nursing, such as the capacity to care for someone as opposed to simply delivering care, or the ability to choose a particular manifestation of “kindness” in the face of patient need.
Twenty years on, and I think that most student nurses are exposed to learning about “care”, “kindness”, “emotional intelligence” and, hopefully, “self management”, because we don’t want our nurses to burn out with compassion fatigue, do we?
I like to imagine that nursing - while having to adapt to settle into a university setting - has had a positive effect on what universities consider to be knowledge. Where once most social science schools were interested in finding truths they could share, many now simply try to understand what the things they see might mean. Less about science, more about experience.
‘On the one hand nurses are being told they are students, on the other that they should think of themselves - just a little - as well dressed nuns’
I was thinking about this when I read about the NMC’s gentle cautioning of student nurses to be mindful of their new profession during freshers’ week. I asked some of my students, who said “What freshers’ week?” before laughing at the fact that on the one hand they are being told they are students and should embrace the status, learning demands and educational culture that goes with that, while on the other they should think of themselves - just a little - as well dressed nuns. How very 1930s.
Of course, the NMC was being charmless and patronising. If it is so desperate to speak, it could try saying something helpful about swine flu vaccines rather than welcoming students into university with so little warmth.
However, I do wonder if the warning tells us something about just how serious the NMC is about “education” for nurses rather than old fashioned “training”. Yes, “go to university but don’t think of yourself as a university student” might be the subtext. Not only will you have shorter holidays and more work but even at the beginning don’t go joining in with the other students. You are different, even from the medical students who will get no such warning from the GMC.
Nurses come to university to learn how to think, not simply how to “do” and think they can. The NMC cannot police nurses before they become nurses. Its role is to regulate the profession, not university culture.