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Practice comment

It’s a triumph that degree nurses are no longer viewed as alien stock


As nursing prepares to become an all degree profession, Amanda McGough reflects that its members have not always supported each other in their academic achievements

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Today, nursing is moving towards an all graduate profession and senior nurses are encouraged to undertake higher degrees. But what was it like to do one of the first nursing degrees?

In the mid 1980s, only hospitals in London offered a nursing degree course in conjunction with a university, which took four years and four months. The course I applied for was at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and City University in London, a degree in social sciences along with training as a registered nurse. The course only recruited 12 students every September so competition for places was fierce.

There were two serious bones of contention between our group and the RGN course running at the same time. We were classed as supernumerary on the wards and we did not have to work weekends as the hospital could not afford to pay us overtime. We were unpopular with some of the other student nurses although the qualified staff were supportive.

We were placed on wards in pairs – I did wonder if this was for our own protection. Being supernumerary on night duty meant we were additional to the qualified nurse and another student nurse so there were four of us on the shift. As a result there was not enough for four nurses to do; even cleaning the sluice at 4am just to keep warm and stay awake soon lost its appeal.

‘We found “cow” and “bitch” scrawled on our doors. Some nurses on the RGN course were responsible’

After the first year spent solely as a student nurse, we moved to the university for our degree studies and took nursing placements each summer. The final part of the course was tough; we had to complete a thesis and take our final university exams before returning to the hospital to take our final practical assessments and nursing exams.

Even in our last year, we still faced discrimination and felt we were not wanted. We moved to a nurses’ home and found the words “cow” and “bitch” had been scrawled across our names on our room doors. We discovered that some nurses on the RGN course were responsible and put this down to sour grapes as many had been unsuccessful in their applications to the degree course and had been offered a place on the RGN course instead.

The main accusation levelled at us was that we were “theory” nurses and that we had not “served our time” on the wards. We were all very conscious of this and, as well as our placements, took relevant holiday jobs. This experience in different hospitals gave us a deeper understanding of nursing care than if we had remained on the wards for the duration of our training.

If I thought we were viewed as different in London, I was not prepared for the difficulties in trying to secure even a junior staff nurse post in the north east after qualifying. As a degree nurse from London I was still regarded as a “theory” nurse, of alien stock and to be avoided at all costs. At first, I was desperate to hide what I had done and where I had trained as I wanted to be regarded as one of the team. Over time, I came to really appreciate and treasure the experience and the training. I have recently returned to a clinical role and I use what I have learnt from the combined course every day. When I hear nursing degrees being talked about as an accepted face of nursing careers, a little smile creeps across my face as I think “thank goodness”.

AMANDA MCGOUGH is specialist nurse chronic fatigue syndrome/ME, South Tees Hospitals Foundation Trust


Readers' comments (19)

  • Unfortunately you just have to look at some of the ignorant comments aimed at degrees in other posts to realise for some people at least, not much has changed.

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  • Although I agree that a degree in nursing is important, it is has to be looked at as a whole, what does it mean for those who have a degree prior to starting nurse training, For instance a law degree, business degree,

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  • Anonymous | 27-Jul-2010 4:03 pm, it means absolutely nothing, I gained a degree before I started Nursing, it means absolutely sod all to my career, it didn't help me get a job, hasn't helped me get a promotion or extra pay.

    Nursing is one of the few careers left that actively does everything it can to kick it's best and brightest in the teeth.

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  • Nursing will be my second degree and I think patients and staff will benefit from my wider knowledge - talk about anti-snobbery! I am a team player and I see any background's contribution to nursing as a bonus - sounds like some nurses need to grow up!

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  • Anonymous | 27-Jul-2010 7:57 pm, and I think you need to wake up.

    Yes experience in varied backgrounds and other degrees will bring a wealth of experience to Nursing, that is a given and noone said it wouldn't.

    What I was talking about though is the career itself, the fact that gaining extra quals, having a degree etc, is not rewarded in the same way as it is in other careers, particularly in the private sector. Promotions are not certain, pay is poor, banding is reworked and reworded to avoid paying skilled staff the wage they deserve, etc etc etc.

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  • Sorry, did not mean to hit submit then. Also there is the attitude of (usually older) staff who view anyone coming into the profession with degrees (Nursing or otherwise) as being 'inferior' to them because 'they didn't need degrees in their day!' (a perfect example of the jealous bitchiness inherent in this profession).

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  • You do get a pay rise every year whether or not you fulfilled the cpd requirements of registration though kids, because no one can be arsed to do a KSF appraisal, so do look on the bright side.

    (Health Minister please note above and include it in your grand plan to increase productivity - it costs nada to implement, who knows maybe staff will start to believe that anyone gives a monkeys and start emitting your sort of starbright smile )

    You are quite right about getting paid more for higher qualification, hence my decision to leave and do something worthwhile and rewarding with the rest of my working life.

    Ciao suckers.

    (stop being such victims, it's the inverse snobbery of the ignorant and uneducated)

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  • >Anonymous | 27-Jul-2010 4:03 pm

    >Although I agree that a degree in nursing is important, it is has to be looked at as a whole, what does it mean for those who have a degree prior to starting nurse training, For instance a law degree, business degree,

    Why o why o why? Another 3 years 'training' to work in this when they could be making stupid money in investment banking. It's a waste of a good education I tell ye.

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  • My concern is the academic standard of current nursing degrees, nurse
    'graduates ' applying for the Trust where I work are FAILING A BASIC LITERACY AND NUMERACY test!!! I think its time that the entry level to nursing degrees is brought to the level of other degrees (basically 2 - 3 'A' levels)

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  • Anonymous | 2-Aug-2010 11:19 am, I absolutely agree with you. In some universities they do take this into consideration, but not all, and certainly not always.

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