How much are we promoting positive images of nursing?
At an event last week, I met with several chief nurses and senior nursing leads who were enthusiastic about nursing careers. They felt strongly that this was still a profession that could appeal because of its ability to make a difference, but that only negative messages about it were filtering through to the public.
It would be foolish to suggest that anything other than the government’s decision to remove the bursary for student nurses and midwives is responsible for the sharp downturn in the number of applications for nursing degrees. That said, if we are failing to grow our own nurses on these shores while also losing overseas nurses who are worried about their job security in a post-Brexit Britain, something different needs to happen.
Maybe it is not only about how nurses are treated, but also about how the profession presents itself in the media? There is much to celebrate in nursing – we see it all the time at the Nursing Times Awards and Student Nursing Times Awards. And yet so little of the achievements and influence of nursing is written about or shown to the public.
“Most images of nursing still depict the role as that of doctors’ handmaiden”
Nurses have a large degree of autonomy, making decisions about patients to see them get better, help them live their lives more fully, or help them end their lives well. Yet most images of nursing still depict the role as that of doctors’ handmaiden. Things have changed but perceptions have not kept pace.
I have heard retired nurses talking about how much better nursing was 20 or 30 years ago, when there were no hospital-acquired infections and no pressure ulcers. However, the care environment today, particularly in hospitals but also in the community, is a world apart from what it was in those eras. For example, 20 years ago, patients were not in and out of hospital as quickly as they are now. Wards were full of patients who nowadays would be considered too well to be in bed. And these patients required less nursing care. What puzzles me, though, is why retired nurses, of all people, would denigrate the work of nurses currently working in, let’s face it, pretty tough jobs.
“Former nurses recounting the halcyon days of their careers is not helpful to those currently in the profession”
One of the nurses I spoke to last week explained that they had invited retired nurses to meet their current workforce, in order to help them understand the pressures teams are now under. It was a small but successful PR exercise contributing to spread the idea that nursing is much more complex than it once was, and that former nurses recounting the halcyon days of their careers is not helpful to those currently in the profession. These retired nurses returned to their communities carrying the message that nurses have so much more responsibility, knowledge and experience than they ever did.
The fact that care has changed and that nursing has adapted to respond to new needs surely is an opportunity for nursing to showcase its breadth, depth and influence. Spreading that message would make nursing a more attractive career, I am sure. Of course, more money, a bursary, better benefits and a greater number of nurses working with more respect from the government would all help attract newcomers. But one thing that will definitely put off potential recruits is those in the profession talking it down.
“People are still in awe of nursing and respect the profession”
One of the chief nurses told me last week about a young mum working in a coffee shop who was training to become a nurse. She was prepared to take a cut in her income so she could do this training, because she knew she would end up in a field where she would make more of a difference than just adding soya milk to a latte.
That is a powerful message – people are still in awe of nursing and respect the profession. So whose job is it to educate the media and the public? I believe it is every nurse’s job. It is up you to tell the public and future generations of healthcare professionals that this is still a vocation to be proud of. If you don’t, who will?