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Nursing demands complex emotional intelligence

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The Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery has been told there needs to be a focus on improving the health and wellbeing of nurses. I’m pretty sure this means we can soon expect sauna facilities, free salads and all the head massaging you can stand.

And a gym. And one of those foot spa things free from the Nursing and Midwifery Council when you pay your registration money. Oh and a teasmaid. And some nice smelling joss sticks.

Alternatively, given the difficult financial climate, we might not get a great deal of investment in actual “things”. Half a million foot spas might be a bit steep even for an organisation pulling in the sort of money the NMC does. Let’s face it - at a time when services are struggling financially and patient care is threatened by recession, investing in the health and wellbeing of nurses is never going to be as politically or economically attractive as, oh, I don’t know, sending more troops to Afghanistan or throwing money at rubbish banks.

So, yes, well done to the commission for noticing the need to focus on the health of nurses, shame it wasn’t mentioned when we were investing in healthcare. We’ll hold that thought and remind you of it when the economic wheel goes round and there is money to spend again. Except it won’t be the same prime minister, will it? So he won’t have to listen, will he?

‘Investing in the health and wellbeing of nurses is never going to be as politically or economically attractive as sending more troops to Afghanistan’

The interesting thing about the idea of investing in nurses’ wellbeing is that, in order to make it sound legitimate, the commission chair, health minister and former nurse Ann Keen, talked about nurses as role models for patients. In doing that she reminded us of a common debate: “can we be role models if we don’t live perfect lives?” If we smoke, can we talk to people about giving up smoking? If we are overweight, can we talk about healthy eating with perceived credibility? But there is rather more to the issue of nurses’ wellbeing than role modelling good health for patients.

We know nursing requires knowledge, skill and activity but, unlike many jobs, it also demands complex emotional intelligence. Nurses manage not only their own emotions (which can be complex and draining in the face of death, pain, loss, aggression, sadness) but also those of others. They see people at their most vulnerable and most full of despair, fear or uncertainty. And they deal with those feelings - or at least they do if they are good at their job. And if they are able.

That is why the health of nurses needs to be at the heart of any strategy for the future of the profession. Because a focus on wellbeing begins to articulate the heart of nursing and it may even begin to construct a culture that can cultivate that heart in a more sophisticated and progressive way than characterising nursing as simply a “profession” or a “science” ever can. Care giving was never a series of deliverable tasks. Wouldn’t it be progressive if the underpinning emotional complexity of nursing began to be articulated by policy?

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Of course, we really should take advice on role-modelling from MPs! How patronising!

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  • We learn about Holistic Nursing in School - and the topic of Spirituality is included. However, I think we all-too-often consider that to mean prayer and pastoral visits, when really - it can simply mean CONNECTING to your patient on a human-to-human level without religious prescription.
    Having your boundaries exceeded by anxious patients or aggressive family members can't be a shock to the system. We've got to be prepared for these eventualities ahead of time, and keep our emotions as even as possible in the interest of working out the situation as a win-win-win (nurse-patient-family).
    Extra training in how to do this and practice that readies us to do this is essential to preventing nurse burnout and patient disatisfaction - which can ultimately prolong the healing process in many cases.

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  • Take advice from PM and MPs? What, about how best to mail order a duck island?

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