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It’s not the NMC’s role to police university students


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.


Readers' comments (12)

  • Hear, Hear!

    Enjoy yourself at university folks.

    Show them that nurses are well rounded people, not autonoma.

    Don't neglect your studies but remember to live a little. I think you will be better nurses and more interesting to work with.

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  • Hear hear, almost! I am a newly qualified nurse, the oldest in my cohort of children's nurses. I don't think this has jaundiced my view of how students should behave as there were definately times when I envied others free and easy 'down time' in comparison to my family responsibilitis. However, when all the fun has been had, student nurses have to go onto a hospital ward, with sometimes very sick children along with their anxious and trusting parents. Rocking up with a hangover is just not appropriate and neither is bunking off shift as an alternative. This I know has happened. Rightly or wrongly, student nurses have a responsibility that other's don't, and owe a duty of care to their patients, together a self-awareness of the trust bestowed on them by staff, families and their patients. This should not to be taken lightly. Have fun, you need it to cope with the enormously challenging role, but keep it in perspective and remember your responsibilities whilst in role.

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  • Mmmmm!

    Apart from being a student nurse, I am also a church minister with over 20 years experience including working with people who have become embroiled with cults.

    The NMC's attitude confirms to me what I would call the 'Cult of Nursing'. It is similar to that of the controlling cults. I am not using hyperbole here! Dictating what political parties, or what social parties a person relates to is much the same as a cult would do.


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  • As one of the old school of nurses who "trained" back in the dark ages of schools of nursing, I see the lovely student nurses come to the wards and either sink or swim according to their personalities not their preparation for the job.
    We see some excellent students but we also see a number of students who are still on the course because they can pass an assignment.
    We see some very intelligent nurses with not a grain of common sense.
    nursing is a complex career which requires not only the ability to think and assimilate knowledge but also to transfer that into practice.
    as a senior nurse I am finding that I have to capability manage far more new staff now than in previous years, most would have not reached year 2 of my training.
    I have recently had to performance manage a member of staff who I would not be happy letting nurse my goldfish, is this really what we want from our training institutions!

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  • I completely agree with the article!As a 3rd year nursing who completed an access to nursing course initially we were told of the great nightlife and fun that came with being a nursing student!!With the workload of placement, uni work and holding down a part time job to help fund my studies there is little chance of being the social butterfly that was initially suggested to us!!I think the NMC has to realise the pressures faced nursing students and understand that to us our nursing course is like a child - you can never take your mind of it for a second!

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  • As a mother of three uni students I am fully aware of the cost of being a student today.
    I think that as the future of the NHS our student nurse should be employed by the Hospital and paid a living wage. The training would be far more beneficial to the student if they were part of a ward team and did their training in blocks which allowed them to assimilate what they have learnt and consolidate this knowledge and skill within a supported work environment, not to be sent to an area with very little practical skills and expected to cope in what is a very practical patient centred profession

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  • I agree with the above statement, as a student is is tough to build a relationship with other staff and become part of a team before we are sent to a different one and have to start all over again! The past way of training when students spent all their training in one hospital allowed students to build professional relationships with staff and become part of their team without feeling isolated.

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  • As a nurse the police are obliged to pass onto the NMC any arrests, cautions and misdemeanors. Why should training to be a nurse be any different? The NMC didn't say behave like nuns/monks, it just pointed out that as a nurse you have a professional responsibility for appropriate behaviour. "As you sow, so shall you reap"!

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  • Mark, nursing students do not
    "learn in universities rather than hospitals", they learn in universities AND hospitals.

    "I would not be happy letting nurse my goldfish, is this really what we want from our training institutions!"

    Again, nursing students learn and develop in practice and university therefore both settings must accept responsibility for the practitioners that emerge.

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  • The NMC has no right at all to be advising student nurses on standards of behaviour. The NMC should mind it's own business and do the job we pay it to do.

    Yet again more 'victorian' 'middle class' platitudes from the faceless wonders who staff it.

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