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Nurses need degrees, like a hole in the head


Do you need to go to university before you become a nurse? Beyond the Bedpan tries desperately to sit on the fence, but readers’ minds appear to be made up

Beyond the Bedpan has been unable to hear itself think lately, such is the deafening roar of the all-graduate nursing debate.

In case you have been seconded to the moon for the past week and missed it, here are the basics: The Nursing and Midwifery Council, backed by the Department of health, has recommended that all new nurses should require degrees before being allowed to join the profession.

The move either escalates nursing to a the lofty intellectual heights it deserves, or condemns patients to wallow in their own filth while the nurses that used to look after them ponder the abstract philosophical principles of post-modern Bauhaus management techniques.

The latter point was picked up with predictable vigour by the tabloid press, including Eamonn Holmes of the Sunday People, who lamented the attempt to turn nurses into “doctors on the cheap”.

This was quickly slapped down by the government, namely health minister and former nurse Ann Keen, who told Nursing Times: “Eamonn Holmes may want nurses to hold his hand and empathise with him, but he would also want us to be exceptionally knowledgeable about his condition and to make sure we administered safe care. For that you need a clever nurse, so the case has already been made.”

Whether “clever” necessarily requires a degree is up for debate. And debate it you have, dear readers.

“It will fail in its aim and only assist in driving wedges between staff,” said one.

“This is going to lead to some excellent young people, who would make great nurses, being barred from the profession,” said another.

“Having a a degree won’t change the fundamental flaws in the NHS system. The system is antiquated, not it’s nurses.”

In fact support for the proposal was thin on the ground, but one nurse did say it was “the only way to go if we want to be seen as a true profession not a vocational career”.

It would seem the jury is still out. What do you think?


Readers' comments (79)

  • I am a nurse who trained in the 70s and work in a small community hospital. I do not think I am a worse nurse for not having a nursing degree. I find our degree nurses students only learn how to nurse when they are on clinical placements. I am academically well trained without a degree and how can a degree enable a nurse to be compassionate to a patient as this comes with practice on the wards.

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  • I just want to say....what is wrong with having a vocatioanl career? I do not have a degree but am passionate about a job I love and whilst endeavouring to acheive my degree, that is for my own personal acheivement not for the sake of the NHS. I agree with whomever said “This is going to lead to some excellent young people, who would make great nurses, being barred from the profession,”.

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  • I am a clinical nurse specialist who started out on my career in the early 70's with the grand title SRN. I have a wealth of knowledge and experiance as a result of working in the clinical areas and learning the acedemic side for myself....on the I went along.........!!! This consolidates the learning and experience is the reason I have the ability to look at situations globally and think about the impact that decisions will have on other areas and services. There is not a degree in the world that will ever replace hands on care and a knowledgeable teacher in the clinical area

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  • Yes - lets advance nursing as a career, and be equals with our professional colleagues

    but at what cost? think of all those we will exclude because we are setting the entry level too high. There is nothing wrong with vocational entry into nursing.

    The same scenario is currently being played out with our paramedic colleagues; as they too are moving to a more academic route.

    do we need 'hands on' carers, or do we need 'thinkers'

    Personally, I think we need both

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    As always nurses are their own enemy when it comes to advancing nursing!
    And can we please stop using the word 'Vocation' as if it is something sacred! See Oxford dictionary for meaning and this over used noun '1) a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.
    2) a person’s employment or main occupation, especially one requiring dedication.
    3) a trade or profession.
    I originally came into nursing in the 70's and left after 18months, so did not complete my training. I returned in 97 at age 42 after completing an Access course and chose to take the Diploma route due to family and financial commitments. I now work as an Advanced Clinician in General Practice (first contact only), have completed a degree, MSc and looking forward to my PhD as I feel this is the right way to drag nursing into the future and been seen as equal professionals.
    No where have I read that nurses who trained differently are bad nurses, as that was what was available at the time and we all feel protective for the way we were trained. Nurses also need to stop stabbing nursing colleagues who have trained differently in the back, instead use your expertise and experience to welcome the differences we have! People are always fearful of the unknown but we have to remember that we are adults and move forward and use the energy to ensure that the new degree programme is fit for purpose!

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  • Whether we like it or not, the financial pressures of the NHS have forced nursing to change. Much ‘hands on’ work which was the mainstay of the registered nurse now has to fall to the healthcare assistants. While all nurses and healthcare assistants should be capable of delivering compassionate and skilled hands-on care, we need our nurses to also have the skills and knowledge to undertake a high level of clinical decision making. This usually requires extensive experience coupled with academic study.

    While I agree that novice nurses with a degree have a lot to learn from their experienced non-degree level nursing colleagues, an experienced nurse educated to degree level (especially if that degree has been obtained following their initial training) generally knocks spots off an experienced nurse without any academic qualifications.

    Academic achievement and safe compassionate care are not mutually exclusive! I manage a team of highly qualified specialist nurses – their passion and dedication to the needs of their patients is remarkable. However, it is their academic knowledge that enables them to identify the best possible care for their patients and the means by which to deliver such care. This is the future of nursing. We should be embracing it, not arguing against it.

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  • I trained in the 70's SEN, SRN, RMN. I do not feel a degree other than a degree in experience is essential, though a degree in nursing is something that can be studied for post reg maybe. I feel that nurse training is about study consilidated by practical experience and that this should take precedent.
    Though I do not have a degree I have maintained my educate throughout my career, there is plenty of opportunity for post reg education/training for those who take their profession seriously.

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  • Thank you, thank you Lesley and Una for your perceptive comments. It's wonderful to know that I'm not alone in thinking we should move forwards in nursing. Interestingly over the last week whilst following the discussions online I have also had the explain the idea of a 'degree nurse' to many friends and patients. They are watching what we say and do very closely, so be careful fellow nurses what we do and don't say about our profession, words do have the power to influence. Personally, I would like to see nursing being more supportive over its development, rather than littered with comments about why we shouldn't change, it would certainly help our professional image rather than this constant back biting, we have much to be proud of in nursing, lets celebrate it and move into the future.

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  • I did my training in the 70's when nursing was a vocation and have worked abroad as well in this country without a degree.
    I have worked with many students some good and some bad and a degree doesn't make a nurse, it's dedication, empathy,and an honest caring attitude towards people when at their most vulnerable.
    I once tried to teach a student how to take a B/P manually rather than relying on the dynamap, his reply to me was "I know it in theory and don't have to do it in practice". If this is the caliber of nurses for the future then I fear the day when I have to be treated by them.
    Many have no initiative or common sense nor even seem to know how to wash the hands and face of a patient. As for basic nursing care of seeing that your patient is comfortable pain free and has met their nutrtional needs seems to be beneath them and they say that it's the support workers job. I have been told by such students to my face that they are not going through university to clean someone's bottom. I am completely horrified by such comments. I wish so much that the traditional training were back and students showed more respect for the trained staff that are trying to teach them.

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  • I wish, I wish, I wish I had done my training under the old system. I have a degree, for all the good it did me. When I qualified two years ago, I felt absolutely lost on a ward, mainly because I had not had the mentorship and full clinical experiences on placements which I should have done.

    A degree is a piece of paper, no more, no less. It does not make a good nurse and may quite possibly deter a lot of potentially excellent nurses who do not believe they are capable of taking a degree course. Can we please get back to teaching the basic tenets of nursing? This more than anything, would bring the profession of nursing back up to the high standard I believe we are in danger of losing.

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