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'Is the general public's view of nursing misinformed?'


As she approaches the end of her training, student nurse Dana questions how nursing is viewed by the general public and how this impacts on the future of the profession

Nursing is now a bachelor’s degree only profession, a move that acknowledged nurses’ increasingly complex roles within the healthcare system and need for higher education.

So why does the public still seem to misunderstand the role of registered nurses?

Many times I’ve heard declarations of ”just train them on the wards” ”they don’t need university!” “all nurses need is a caring nature!” - statements that rely on the idea that nurses are nothing more than handmaidens, that our education is a waste of time because we simply don’t need it, and ignore studies that show degree-educated nurses reduce mortality rates.

With nurses now taking on responsibilities that were once reserved for doctors, it’s vital that we have a knowledge base to match this higher level of practice yet still there are calls for a reduced education standard. 

“What the patient cannot see is the cognitive process behind that action”

Are we doing enough to combat this misinformed view of contemporary nursing?

Patients see actions, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) we aren’t able to project what we’re thinking at the time of the action. For example, a nurse administering an oral medication. Looks simple, why do they need university for that? What the patient cannot see is the cognitive process behind that action, the nurse drawing on underpinning knowledge to complete it safely; considering the contraindications, the pharmacology of the drug, the effects we want and expect to see, the effects we may have to counteract, warning signs etc.

The role is reduced to the viewable actions, rather than the knowledge needed to complete those actions to a high standard.

“To be properly valued by society and government we need to make them aware of nursing’s true value”

With the current status of the NHS, changes to the nursing profession, introduction of new roles, and potential alterations to the agenda for change payscale, more than ever we need to foster a good relationship with the public. We need them to understand what we do if we are to expect them to properly support us in any future negotiations, petitions, campaigns etc.

To be properly valued by society and government we need to make them aware of nursing’s true value, not one based on misinformation and outdated views.

How can we change the “handmaiden” perception and raise awareness that nurses are in fact practitioners that need and are worthy of a professional education? That they’re highly trained individuals who, contrary to popular belief, do get hands-on experience as students, but who also need that higher education to allow them to become the practitioner they need to be for a modern day NHS and its people?

Expecting our employers to portray that image would be a start. Shaun Lintern from Nursing Times’ sister title, HSJ, recently wrote a thought-provoking article on this subject, demonstrating how Health Education England varied drastically in it’s approach of advertising nurses, compared to our US counter-parts. 

”No-one is denying that the ability to care is vital and is what that drives us”

HEE’s effort to increase numbers has simply been asking people to “come back to nursing”,  this message being delivered via a radio advert that put emphasis on the ”hands on caring” of nursing. But are we being sold short? No-one is denying that the ability to care is vital and is what that drives us, but at the same time nurses need to be identified as - as Lintern (2016) says - ”highly skilled and technically competent professionals with expansive medical knowledge”.

The difference between HEE’s attempt and American strategies is clear. From “Come back to nursing, we need your hands on care” to talk about setting standards in education, research and clinical care, how ”expert nurses participate in initiatives with our physicians, leadership and world partners, keeping world-renowned clinical care in a constant state of evolution” (John Hopkins, 2015). The difference is evident.

We need organisations like HEE to champion us, but we also need to champion ourselves. I hope that in the future it is recognised that yes, we are caring and compassionate, but we are - and are capable of - so much more.

Dana Pouncey is a third year student nurse at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh



Hopkins J (2015) Who is a Johns Hopkins Nurse? YouTube. Retrieved 1 November 2016, from

Lintern S (2016) Lintern’s Risk Register: What we say about nursing matters. Health Service Journal. Retrieved 1 November 2016, from





Readers' comments (2)

  • Michelle

    I never really thought about why the public's perception of nursing could be so different. But the fact that the public do just see the action rather than the thought process behind it is a good point. Great reflective article, thanks!

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  • The public see a nurse as a woman in a dress or tunic and belt.many health care assistants believe they do the same job as a Qualified nurse and the only difference is that they don't do the med round. Observe on the posts how many complain they don't have a levels or maths gcsce so should get easier routes into Nursing.Why on earth should other allied professionals study for degrees, with debt and placements sometimes nation-wide,while the new breed of nursing associates can be paid,study and not have to move.Also,can anyone clarify where does it leave the assistant practioners?

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