The senior nurses I met when I became editor of Nursing Times over five years ago told me how, when they started their careers as the equivalent of band 5 nurses years before, they dreamt they would become ward sisters.
They thought this would be the pinnacle of their careers. It was something they aspired to but thought might not be possible.
Their humility was astounding because in all cases, those nurses had gone on to become ward sisters and then take on even more senior positions in their careers – leading teams, projects and transforming care nationally and sometimes internationally. Nurses, when motivated, inspired and encouraged, can achieve great things for patients, for themselves, and for the public.
I wonder now where that aspiration leads the profession. Last year, Nursing Times wrote about the difficulties of filling directors of nursing posts. Many trusts don’t have permanent chief nurses, or they have employed deputies who don’t initially have the experience and skills needed to manage the huge responsibility that comes with being a director of nursing.
That is what motivated us to create the Nursing Times Deputies’ Congress and Directors’ Congress – to help create networks and support for people in those challenging roles. What running those events has taught us is that senior roles are difficult positions and that nurses don’t necessarily want to take them on.
London South Bank University has been working with the Trust Development Authority and Health Education England to develop a director of nursing course, which will help shape future trust chief nurses NHS.
It is an excellent idea to prepare nurses for that role and its responsibilities, but the regulator’s involvement in this course suggests there isn’t a pool of talented potential nurse directors being created and waiting in the wings. Is that not because these roles can be stressful, backbreaking and emotionally arduous jobs, in which you can generally expect no praise but lots of pain?
The course is a fantastic concept but we also need to ensure these senior leadership roles are supported by their organisations and other nurses, so chief nurses can succession-plan and generate an appetite among their people for taking on leadership roles. Nursing needs strong, talented leaders, or the profession’s voice will go unheard, and that is the last thing we need right now.