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It’s ridiculous to lower the age to start training

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‘You what? You’ve got to be joking.’ Not very articulate language for an NT columnist but that was my reaction when I heard the minimum age for nurse training is to be reduced from 18 to 16 years.

I thought the NMC had taken leave of its senses. Did this nonsense come from the same mindset that believes 16-year-olds can be appointed as plastic policemen – sorry, community support officers? I was relieved to find the idea originated not from the hallowed halls of the NMC but the bureaucrats of the EU.
So what’s the problem with 16-year-olds starting nurse training? I hear some say: ‘Get them while they’re young and impressionable.’ The thing is, it takes a lot to become a nurse – one essential prerequisite is a degree of life experience. Most nurses I’ve worked with had experience in non-nursing jobs – offices, shops, restaurants, care homes – or went travelling before commencing training.
Before I arrived at the school of nursing, I’d washed up in a restaurant, was a sales assistant in Harrods, drove tractors on farms in Israel and even signed on in Germany. Why bother living through all that if you could, in the new order, be qualified by the age of 20? Why waste time? Especially when you consider that, at times, it may seem as if you’re just drifting along or hanging around.
It’s all about gaining experience. You may not be in an actual profession but even when you are working in a shop or a ‘dead-end’ office job this will help you develop a professional attitude and a wealth of core skills in communication, time management and the confidence to deal with the public – in all its manifestations. Perhaps that’s one reason why nurses can communicate better with patients than medics, who’ve often ridden the academic path straight to the bedside.
Nursing can be very tough at times and, if you’ve never done anything else, there’s always the temptation to believe the grass is greener elsewhere. But experience tells you: ‘It ain’t necessarily so.’
As a student practice facilitator, I’ve seen problems with professionalism, for example some students fail to report for duty or call in at 10am for an early, saying, ‘I’m too tired to come in’. Others display unprofessional body or vocal language. One staff nurse was most perturbed when, after drawing a young nursing student’s attention to an incident, the nursing student retorted, ‘Whatever.’
This new ruling benefits no one – not the student, not the staff, not the NHS and not
the patient. But when you introduce an arbitrary rule on the grounds of age equality, there’s every chance that it isn’t going to have much practical
value. To my mind, the focus is being placed
at the wrong end of nursing – the profession
is in far more need of experience than youth right now.

Brian Belle-Fortune is a student practice facilitator at Great Ormond Street Hospital
NEXT WEEK: Jane Warner on the problems of disclosuring personal medical information

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