I make a point to go to scientific conferences to ensure I keep in touch with the latest areas of discussion, and last week I attended my first RCN Congress.
Whilst these conferences profess to being inclusive events, the overarching dominance of research by our medical colleagues always means the nursing voice at these conferences is rather a quiet one. I was given a new opportunity when asked to attend Congress to be a voting member. I thought it would be a great change and give me a reflective break from clinical work. However, I never really thought the RCN congress would be the entirely new experience it was and would lead to a subtle but important change in my way of thinking.
I must admit when I attended the first debate I was shocked and bemused - it included one of the debaters singing part of his argument. This made me feel really uncomfortable, and the lack of research and hard scientific debate made me embarrassed. The lack of research and concentration on hard science isn’t going to result in any change, I thought, this isn’t what will influence and challenge stereotypes about nursing.
After a day though, I began to adjust my mindset, noticing that the debates perhaps reflected our culture. Whilst lacking in methodical, precise and controlled science, the Congress debates weren’t aggressive, they were respectful and gentle - a conversation between nurses that included singing and laughter. Yet, nursing culture isn’t aggressive; it relies, as the chair of congress put it, on the “respect of each other and humour.”
Nursing needs a powerful voice, but maybe the power nurses have will come from this respect and humour. No political debate is ever won quickly; politics is slow and considers views and uses persistence, effort and passion - which nurses have a real culture of - so I am hopeful that the RCN Congress will result in positive political influence.
I have been Chair of ARNS in the past so I appreciate that to make any influence in clinical care an organisation needs to work closely with Public Health England and larger national nursing organisations to raise the voice of nursing, respiratory at least, at national level.
My view has now been strengthened since Congress; influencing decisions which not only affect our working conditions and pay, but those which affect patients’ clinical treatments, are being made not at local but national level and unless we give voice to our views these decisions will be unchallenged and major changes in clinical care won’t occur in a way of which we approve.
Additionally, I am now firm in my opinion that a separation between congresses and conferences shouldn’t occur. Clinical conferences may be great at developing the small clinical changes but never make a noise about the issues that need to be challenged at national level. I believe all national clinical professional organisations need to get more political and not be frightened to include political debates within conferences. This would raise the profile of clinical specialities and the challenges they face as well as attract media interest needed to market and strengthen their voice. Including more politics would also encourage clinicians to put on political hats, get involved and encourage nurses to realise to win it, you have to be in it.
Rebecca Sherrington is respiratory nurse consultant, Princess Elizabeth Hospital, Guernsey