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Professor titles should ‘only be given to chief nurses judiciously’

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Chief nurses who use the honorary title of professor are causing uproar among academic colleagues who believe it should be reserved for those with genuine research credentials, a new study has revealed.

The study, which set out to investigate the academic standing of nursing directors at NHS trusts in England, found only a minority of chief nurses have ever published an academic paper.

Yet several hold – and use – the honorary title of professor, which has “infuriated” some genuine professors of nursing, according to the paper published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

”Whilst the use of the [professor] title may help enhance the reputation of nursing, we feel strongly that the title needs to be awarded extremely judiciously”

Study on academic credentials of chief nurses

“The title ‘Professor’ says to the outside world that one is academically credible,” said the paper.

“The use of the ‘P’ word has infuriated some professorial colleagues; if they are professors, why aren’t we honorary chief nurses?,” it added.

The study, led by former NHS chief nurse and professor of nursing studies at Birmingham City University Ann-Marie Cannaby and professor of nursing Richard Gray, comes amid a debate about the academic performance of nursing professors themselves after another study found “a substantial proportion of the nursing professoriate had a rather modest publication record”.

There has also been concern about the “clinical credibility” of nursing academics and an ongoing gulf between academic work and the realities of clinical practice.

On the flipside some argue chief nurses ought to play a more active role in undertaking research and ensuring nursing practice in their organisations has a strong evidence base, said the paper.

”[We are] surprised that only a comparatively modest proportion of chief nurses have published [an academic paper]”

Study on academic credentials of chief nurses

For this study, the research team reviewed 228 NHS trusts, gleaning information about the most senior nurse’s academic affiliations from the trust website.

They then searched a comprehensive database of academic publications to find out how many papers the chief nurses had published.

The results suggest the majority of chief nurses – 57%– have never published an academic paper.

Among those chief nurses that had published, the average number of papers they had produced was just one. However, those with academic affiliations tended to have more papers to their name, with an average of about four.

The authors said they were “surprised that only a comparatively modest proportion of chief nurses have published” although they suggested senior nurses may tend to write more for professional publications like Nursing Times rather than publish in academic journals.

As expected, they found a marked difference in scores for research quality and productivity between chief nurses and professors of nursing. Just one chief nurse achieved a score that was above the average for a UK nursing professor.

“We argue that more chief nurses need to consider with their academic colleagues how best to collaborate and to be more involved in research programmes”

Study on academic credentials of chief nurses

The authors said they could understand why some nursing academics were annoyed by chief nurses using honorary professor titles.

“There is a cohort of chief nurses with professorial appointments. Whilst the use of the title may help enhance the reputation of nursing, we feel strongly that the title needs to be awarded extremely judiciously and only to colleagues that have demonstrated exceptional scholarship,” they said.

They suggested research and the implementation of evidence-based practice should be part of chief nurses’ job descriptions.

Meanwhile they said they would like to see nursing professors and chief nurses working “hand in glove” to develop joint programmes of research and learning that address local needs.

“We argue that more chief nurses need to consider with their academic colleagues how best to collaborate and to be more involved in research programmes, which will often be led by their (full-time) academic colleagues,” they added.

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • PROFESSIOR in nursing? What shear arrogance.
    In UK it is reserved to high level teachers, lecturers or heads of dept and only for these. Next we will have the USA designation of Distinguished Professor
    Its like care assistants being called Associate nurses. What don't we just change all nursing levels to just carers and carers teachers and be done with it

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  • Another research study that needs to be undertaken is to discover how many with the title of 'professor' are actually registrants? As there are many titles 'professor of nursing' who are actually not registered nurses anymore, because they've let their registration lapse for whatever reason. So our universities have nursing professors who are not really registered nurses, whilst the so called leaders of the profession are creating a new tier of 'nurse' called the 'associate nurse' that's not really a registered nurse either. Well, that sort of fits, doesn't it ??

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  • I work in a high ranking School of Medicine. Believe me, they dole out Professor titles to many NHS consultants who have only minor research and teaching portfolios

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  • Yes but they are registered with the GMC. We have profs of nursing who aren't nurses. You wouldn't have professors of clinical medicine who aren't doctors and registered with the GMC.

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  • Meant to say - you wouldn't have professors of clinical medicine who aren't registered with the GMC?

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  • michael stone

    A large proportion of my e-mail contacts during my EoL debate carry a professor tag. Most are doctors who are mainly working clinicians, but a few are from nursing backgrounds - most of the nurses are associated with universities in teaching roles.

    Perhaps the first thing you might ponder, if thinking about what the title professor means, is whether or not the person has got an @ac.uk e-mail address. If the answer is yes, then professor is 'backed up' - although I'm not saying the test applies in reverse (the title can be perfectly legitimate without such an e-mail contact address).

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