A group of chief nurses I met with last week were discussing the challenges they face in the recruitment and retention of nursing staff, and the new roles entering the nursing family.
The conversation turned to whether competence or compassion was more important in nurses. And the verdict was that both were vital, but that you might just have to compromise or combine the skills of staff members to achieve the right balance in your rosters.
The truth is that with almost 700,000 on the NMC register it is unrealistic to expect them all to possess the optimum combination of compassion and competence – or for the balance to remain static within individuals throughout their careers.
However, nursing roles vary widely. And that means the optimum balance of compassion and competence differs between roles. Of course, there is a minimum level of each required by all nurses, but beyond this the balance often depends on the context in which they work. For example, for nurses working in management, academia or policy setting, competence in analytical skills, research or strategic vision may be far more useful than their ability to be friendly and warm. A newly qualified nurse, on the other hand, may have much to learn in clinical skills, but bring value in the form of empathy or the ability to look at their service with fresh eyes.
“I believe there has been too much emphasis on compassion as defining nursing of late”
Interpersonal skills are essential for nurses if they are interacting with patients, service users and their loved ones. They enable you to find out how a patient really is, so you can aim to give them choices about the things that really matter to them, rather than assuming all patients in a particular situation want the same thing. However, I believe there has been too much emphasis on compassion as defining nursing of late.
Actually the strength of nursing is its breadth and depth – you don’t just need to be good with people to be a nurse. You can be great with figures, awesome at interpreting policy, phenomenal at analysing data and brilliant at teaching students.
“The strength of nursing is its breadth and depth”
Some people try to distil nursing into a few elements that they believe make a good nurse. But this over-simplifies the profession. Nursing is highly complex and cannot be reduced to a catchphrase, a mantra or a few key words; it is more than the sum of its parts.
Those who imply that all nurses must possess equal amounts of the same set of values undersell the profession and those within it – because nurses can generally offer so much more.
One chief nurse told me recently that when she was a ward sister a patient had once remarked: “You’re not very caring for a nurse are you?” But that patient also observed that he felt safer whenever she was on duty.
The moral of the story is that individual nurses make different contributions, and we should respect their individuality instead of trying to make them all fit into the same mold.