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'Those who claim the nursing degree is too academic are missing the point'


A lot of people knock modern nurse education, but I feel the need to stand up for students

Can you remember what it was like when you first started training to be a nurse? Maybe that wasn’t so long ago, or maybe it feels like a lifetime has passed since you made that decision to don your cape and hat.

I’ve always believed that it takes a special person to decide to become a nurse, especially now the bursary has been removed and it’s not just hard graft but hard cash you need to get your nursing degree.

When some other students are out drinking in nightclubs and staying up late the night before lectures, student nurses are clocking up long hours in placement and poring over their books to try to memorise their normal physiology.

Last week, I spent a day with some second-year nursing students and the academic staff that teach them at Anglia Ruskin University.

”I’ve always believed that it takes a special person to decide to become a nurse”

A lot of people knock modern nurse education, but I feel the need to stand up for students. Nursing is a tough degree. Those who claim it’s too academic are missing the point – isn’t it right that students learn how the cardiovascular, genito-urinary and gastrointestinal systems work in detail? Shouldn’t they be well versed on anatomy and understand fully how to recognise the signs of the deteriorating patient? I believe so.

And if you think those academic skills mean practical hands-on nursing skills are sacrificed, you’d be wrong. Students spend 2,300 hours in practice and have a whole raft of clinical skills they have to practise and document before they pass their degree.

”I am not saying that previous courses and training methods weren’t hard and didn’t create great nurses”

On top of that the students I met need to have digital, presentation and communication skills, and be able to understand an evidence base and interpret legislation and policy. I am not saying that previous courses and training methods weren’t hard and didn’t create great nurses. Far from it. But I feel it’s worth making the point that this degree is not an easy option, and I tip my hat to those who succeed at it.

But to be a good student also requires excellent teaching staff and superb mentors and placements. We pay tribute to all those people and organisations in our Student Nursing Times Awards each year. The 2017 Awards are now open for entry. If you are a student, or a mentor, educator or organisation that is training students, check out the website for details.


Readers' comments (13)

  • As the late Brian Sewell once said when asked about nursing degrees, one doesnt need a degree in philosophy to be a gardner. Load of old cobblers.

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  • karen Webb

    Well said. It is simply not enough to be a good person. Patients demand a good person who also has the knowledge skill and wherewithal to intervene when they themselves would be oblivious to their risks.
    Is this the last gasp attempt of government and society to de-professionalise us? So much easier to keep us at the level of "good girls" than actually have to pay us a decent wage and listen to us as the knowledgeable professionals we are.
    Of course nurses need degrees. Patients are unaware of the dangers, governments want to keep the public ignorant of the consequences to keep grip on the costs. As in most things, this debate is about money, political imperatives, class and sexism.

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  • My training goes back 50+ years. I started as a Cadet Nurse aged 16. The 1st years was full time in college doing 'O' levels, 2nd year was part time. The 'O' levels included Anatomy & physiology and sciences. At 18 we had to have 5 academic 'O' levels including English and maths and pass the hospital entrance exam. (not easy)
    As students at the hospital School of Nursing, we had blocks of 3 months in school each year. Our lecturers were the consultants or Drs who were heads of department. so we didnt just get book work. Even if you were on nights you were expected to attend or face matron next day. During the 2nd year we had to pass Prelims exams 1 and 2. One being anatomy & physiology and 2 on nursing care, practical exam could be anything. (Mine was admission & care of meningitis case. (We had very few antibiotics) Finals came in 3rd year.
    Throughout we worked on the wards, working the same hours as full time nurses (48 hours then 44 hours a week) we were paid, Cadet £6 a month and Student £10 a month but all meals when on duty were provided. Nurses meals had to be taken in the nurses dining rooms and the home had its own kitchen, quite separate from the hospital one. All 1st year nurses lived in at the hospital, then with matrons permission (loco parentis) we could move out.
    As for the comment above, I met my husband when I was a student, he was a hospital gardener at. Since then he has since studied at Kew Gardens, Newcastle University and was awarded a PhD from Southampton University.
    As for Brian Sewell, didnt he go to an 'art' college?

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  • People often look back to a glorious past that didn't actually exist. I started my nurse training in a hospital 39 years ago (and am retiring this Christmas) and quite frankly it was often brutal and exploitative. Yes we got paid and our level of training was appropriate for the roles we carried out but the world has moved on. Today's health care system is more complex and if we want to recruit bright people into nursing (who graduate as bright educated nurses and can meet the demands of the job), then we need to offer degrees at universities. Those who complain that students graduate but lack the skills/knowledge needed for their first role, need to remember that half the the students time has been spent in practice. The poor experiences they often have with mentors (hostility, rudeness, poor levels of knowledge) contributes to the 'finished product'.

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  • I have a diploma in Nursing Studies (Project 2000) - I have a degree in another subject. I agree with nursing being a degree profession BUT I think the pay must be commensurate with other degree professions AND there should be a career path. Otherwise graduates will feel resentful quite quickly and wish they had chosen a different career. That's already happening. Nursing is not a vocation - that's a euphemism used to justify poor terms and conditions. Of course it takes a special person to go into the profession and they have to be caring and compassionate (as well as skilled and knowledgeable) but they have to pay bills and live a reasonable life, like every other graduate.

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  • I have spent years defending my nursing degree. So many people, usually those who don't have degree, say nurses don't need them. Many people incorrectly assume that nurses only need to know how to wash and dress patients. If only. It never ceases to amaze me that some people would seem to prefer to have a less well educated nurse and use that as a reason to criticise the qualification. As always with nursing we seem to suffer from a lack of good publicity,

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  • It seems that nurse education over the years has often been criticized for either being not academic enough, too academic etc. I am a Project 2000 graduate and took criticism for that by quite a few qualified staff when I trained. I worked hard and have since completed a degree (not nursing specific but health related), as well other qualifications that have supported my professional role. I support degree level nursing because why shouldn't it be on a par with other professions i.e radiography, occupational therapy etc? This is especially important in a changing political and societal landscape. However it is important that we don't underestimate any nurse's education because of what is/has been involved i.e practice hours, onus on developing inter-personally as well as academically, working in distressing situations, taking responsibility etc.

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  • Only nursing comes up with the ridiculous idea that somehow education can make a person worse at doing their job. Its very insidious. There appears to be a belief that women dont need to be educated to do women's work. Its everyday sexism plain and simple.
    Empathy might make you feel better but skill and expertise saves lives and nurses today in the myriad of places they work and with the very sickest & most vulnerable in society need both.

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  • Nurses work hard. They are highly qualified and exit university with a degree. Can anyone explain then, why a nursing graduate is paid less that a physiotherapy graduate? Or a psychology graduate? Or and occupational therapy graduate? The list goes on. Until nurses are provided with remuneration which befits their knowledge and expertise, the downplaying of what is required to be a professional nurse will continue. Jenni Middleton is preaching to the choir here, which won't do anything to improve nursing pay or conditions.

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  • I truly believe that anyone can become a good nurse, they just need the motivation for it.

    However the elitism that exist with university education and financial costs where going to lose out on thousands of great nurses. We are just going to end up with boring droves of white middle class nurses who all think the same and come from the same background.

    It also seems like HCAS do more nursing then Nurses now because we are beginning to forget the importance of simple things such as patient interaction because we are too focused on trying to become like doctors. I have a degree and I'm thankful for my university education but our profession is doomed if we can't get ordinary people into our profession from different backgrounds and with different abilities

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