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Universities need realistic entry requirements to help tackle the nursing shortage

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Nursing is often described as a vocation; a calling for those who have an innate aptitude for caring.

While caring is of course a key part of the job of being a nurse and entwined into everything you do, it is not the only attribute required.

Nursing is a graduate-level, knowledge-intensive and safety-critical profession.

“What prior knowledge and experience should we be expecting of students before they embark on a career in nursing?”

The actions of frontline nurses often mean the difference between life and death for patients under their care.

So, what prior knowledge and experience should we be expecting of students before they embark on a career in nursing?

It’s a question that has come up a lot recently and one that always seems to attract furious debate.

This week a new report by the Open University (OU) exploring the barriers preventing people starting nursing degrees brought the issue again to the fore.

The OU claims that nine out of 10 universities are asking prospective nursing students for qualifications above the minimum stipulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

This is a “a significant blocker” to widening participation in nursing and leaving some “who are passionate about becoming a nurse” without opportunity to do so, says the report.

To support the research, the OU conducted a survey of 1,000 people aged 18 to 24 who had thought about doing a nursing degree.

More than one in 10 (11%) said they opted out due to the entry requirements.

Of those respondents who said entry requirements were an issue for them, 42% had the NMC minimum.

“The need to boost the number of nurses being trained is unquestionable”

The OU is therefore calling for universities to remove “unnecessary” entry requirements.

This follows similar claims in the NHS Long Term Plan in January, which said “thousands of highly motivated and well-qualified applicants” to nursing courses were being turned away.

The need to boost the number of nurses being trained is unquestionable.

The OU’s analysis suggests that if all barriers to studying were removed to allow all nursing places to be filled then an extra 10,100 nurses would be qualified in 10 years’ time.

This would fill 13% of the 108,000 nurse shortage predicted in a recent report by the influential King’s Fund think tank on NHS vacancies.

Of course, these extra feet on the ground will mean nothing if they are not suitably skilled to do the job.

The command of basic English and maths is essential to safe practice and there can be no wavering on that.

But it seems to me that we shouldn’t be setting the bar higher than it needs to be.

Or at least we should be supporting those who are not at that level yet to get there.

Denying those gifted with the academic abilities and that instinctive capacity for caring to enter the profession cannot be allowed to happen.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • If the NHS/government wanted to have control over the number of nursing students given places, it should not have dismantled the means of doing that: commissioned plsces (as part of national work force plan) & bursary support.
    You cannot leave it to market forces and then complain when the training supplier sets standards of their own (quite rightly) and potential eligible applicants decline in number due to lack of financial support.
    Do not blame universities for having integrity in maintaining their own standards. We don’t ask standards to be dropped for preparation of other graduate professions - such as medics.

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