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Exclusive: RCN president to blast nursing 'anti-intellectualism'

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The president of the Royal College of Nursing will today hit out against those who still doubt the need for nurses to go to university – revealing how her degree has opened the door to a wealth of opportunities.

Professor Anne Marie Rafferty is expected to be critical of government cuts to nurse education that have resulted in fewer student applications and left the future supply of nurses “under threat”.

“Nursing gave me curiosities and areas of interest that have stuck with me”

Anne Marie Rafferty 

Giving a keynote address at the National Student Nursing Congress at St George’s University in South London, Professor Rafferty will tell student delegates of the long, hard fight to keep “this wave of anti-intellectualism” at bay.

She is expected to say: “We must never lose sight of how lucky we are to study at university, and how a university degree affords us the opportunity to critique our practice and to investigate issues such as leadership and politics.

“My nursing degree has been a passport to me working all over the world, practically and academically, punting both boats at the same time,” she will say. “What other careers can give you that?

“Nursing gave me curiosities and areas of interest that have stuck with me throughout my professional life,” she will say. “You will find this with your own career too.”

Professor Rafferty will tell students that when she was studying in the late 1970s, nursing degrees were viewed with scepticism and university educated nurses only made up a tiny minority of the profession.

“This scepticism had to be challenged and combated with vigour and robustness,” she is due to say, adding that some thought degree-level nurses like her were “too posh to wash” or “too clever to care”.

“A lack of financial support is putting them off continuing their studies”

Anne Marie Rafferty 

The leading nurse academic, who is professor of nursing policy at King’s College London, will note how the removal of the student bursary had made some think twice about starting a degree.

She will highlight how “crucially” this was happening at a time when there were almost 40,000 registered nurse vacancies in England’s provider sector.

“With the future supply of nurses under threat, the prospect of reducing the vacancy rate is unlikely,” Professor Rafferty is expected to tell delegates.

“Many members have told us that debt caused by a lack of financial support is putting them off continuing their studies,” she will warn.

“Many qualified staff say they wouldn’t have studied nursing had they had to take out such a big loan,” she is set to say.

Professor Rafferty will call on the government to “look again” at how it supported nursing students in England, promoting the RCN’s Fund Our Future campaign for a minimum of £1bn a year to be put back into the system.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Well I had to read the rest of the article because I didn’t know what ‘anti-intellectualism' meant, and I’m coming to the end of my 3 year degree in nursing!
    Maybe it’s my age (I’m getting on a bit), personally I disagree a degree doesn’t make a good nurse, and now they’ve upped the academic standard, it is going to stop very capable nurses with lesser qualifications getting higher up the ladder (that’s what students are being told).

    Now if I want to specialise and complete a higher qualification, I need to get at least two years experience under my belt, under the diploma scheme I could have completed further modules, in my speciality say in ED to get my degree which would have been far more of benefit to me this early on. So do I think you need to do a degree to qualify to become a nurse, no I don’t it should have stayed as a diploma course this would have meant less debt for future nurses to contend with once qualified as well.

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  • The nursing associate role is a prime example of nursing "anti intellectualism" It undermines what little we have left of our professionalism and is a slippery slope to even poorer salaries for trained nurses.

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  • I have no problem with the profession becoming a degree qualification, however, I have noticed a worrying trend in our hospital of recently qualified nurses who appear to believe that their job does not involve washing & toileting patients. I have asked CA's from different wards if they agree with my observations, and unfortunately, the majority agree. As do many experienced nurses like myself. By all means, we should strive to improve our education but we must not do it at the cost of hands-on care, you learn more about your patient from giving a bed bath than anything else. If this is anti-intellectualism then count me in.

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