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OPINION

‘It’s time to eliminate “cultural cringe” from our profession’

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The peculiar term ‘cultural cringe’ describes an internalised inferiority complex that causes people to dismiss their own culture.

Several authors have written about this in relation to nursing, focusing on topics such as men in nursing and nursing research. That’s all very interesting but doesn’t shine a spotlight on the criticality of the issue. 

“It feels almost as though someone’s hatching a plot to destroy nursing as we know it”

Bluntly, we are at yet another crossroads in nursing and, from role substitution to pay to bursaries to clinical workload, it feels almost as though someone’s hatching a plot to destroy nursing as we know it.

The rot started some time ago but I don’t lay the blame at doors in Whitehall or with anyone other than ourselves. Why have we embraced cultural cringe so enthusiastically at the expense of the future of our profession? Why is it so embarrassing to be called a nurse these days?

We have seen a gradual dismissal of nursing theory and the unique knowledge of our discipline in numerous under-graduate and post-graduate nursing programmes throughout the UK. Socialising novice nurses into a profession that doesn’t even value its own knowledge base in favour of knowledge borrowed from other disciplines is dangerous.

Very dangerous. Indeed, it calls into question our status as a profession and adds fuel to the fire of those who still believe nursing was only ever a ‘semi-profession’ anyway. Some universities don’t even allow us to have a ‘school of nursing’ because we’re lumped into a ‘school of healthcare’ with randomly selected allied health professionals. How deeply insulting.

“I respect our medical colleagues for being proud of their profession and for protecting its future”

We still see some nurse academics who favour a ‘professor of healthcare research’ type title, as opposed to proudly identifying as a professor of nursing. It really is a sorry state of affairs when some of our key leaders don’t even want to be seen as nurses.

I don’t see our medical colleagues being genericised in this way and good luck to anyone who might try to do such a thing. I respect our medical colleagues for being proud of their profession and for protecting its future.

I’m often told post-graduate courses have had the word ‘nursing’ removed to make them multidisciplinary and increase marketing, and that it’s nothing to do with undervaluing our profession. I disagree. Although this is less about undervaluing our profession and more about completely misunderstanding it.

Some shared learning with all members of the multi-disciplinary team presents a very positive learning experience for students – indeed, countless evidence supports this approach. However, to be effective professionals, nursing students at all levels must first understand the underpinning theories, frameworks and rudiments of their own discipline before immersing themselves into the wider world of healthcare.

“It is time for us to stand up and be proud to be nurses, and to eliminate cultural cringe from the world of nursing”

But this isn’t all about education; it’s also about roles. The desperately overused title ‘practitioner’ is one of the most meaningless and un-patient friendly in healthcare. 

The title ‘theatre practitioner’ makes registered nurses invisible in operating theatres. Is this what patient’s want? And what on earth does ‘advanced clinical practitioner’ mean to a confused, older person?

Why have nurses sold out their profession and disregarded the unique knowledge of our discipline in favour of a meaningless title? Are they so embarrassed to be called ‘nurse’ that they feel anther title elevates them in some way? This is cultural cringe at its most extreme.

It is time for us to stand up and be proud to be nurses, and to eliminate cultural cringe from the world of nursing.

Dickon Weir-Hughes is Magnet programme director at Oxford University Hospitals and the Oxford Institute of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Research

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