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'Compassion and communication skills make a good nurse'


We talk to the chief executive of the Florence Nightingale Foundation, Elizabeth Robb, who has been a nurse for 39 years.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

My A-level grades were not good enough to do medicine.

Where did you train?

Guy’s Hospital in London.

What was your first job in nursing?

As a staff nurse on a surgical ward at Guy’s.

What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?

I am a bit driven sometimes and it can drive other people around me mad.

Whom have you learnt most from in your nursing career and why?

Florence Nightingale - it has to be. So much of her teaching and writing are still so relevant today.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the profession?

Smile a lot and enjoy every moment and remember what a privilege it is for people to trust you at vulnerable moments in their lives.

What keeps you awake at night?

How best to attract more sponsorship given the current economic situation.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

Seeing some of our wonderful scholars and the work they are doing making an impact on patient care.

What’s your proudest achievement?

Personally, my children. Professionally, getting a publication in the BMJ.

What do you think is likely to change nursing in the next decade?

Nurses will be leading a lot more care that was previously undertaken by doctors. The move to a graduate-entry profession by 2013 will also have a big impact on nursing.

Which job would you have done if you hadn’t become a nurse?

A lawyer. I like to talk a lot.

What job would you like to be doing in five years?

The one I am doing now. I have only just started and have lots still to do.

What do you think makes a good nurse?

Compassion, good communication, and being consistent and reliable.

If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?

Politicians should stop reorganising the health service quite so often to allow staff to work in a more stable environment.

What would your ideal weekend involve?

Shopping in Paris. Rather shallow, I know, but it would be great.

If you could spend an hour in someone’s company, who would it be and why?

The founder of the health service Aneurin Bevan. I am so proud of the NHS and I would have loved to have talked to him at the start about his vision and aspirations.


Readers' comments (11)

  • Mother of God! How patronising ‘smile a lot’ oh has smiling a lot got her where she is today; what a lot of rot! Compassion and communication skills make a good nurse what about education -EDUCATION -EDUCATION!!!!!!!! As for Flo being the person you have learnt the most from in your nursing career- I despair! Has no one else in the past God knows how many years made an impact? This is the issue with Nursing stuck in the dark ages.

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  • I think communication, smiling when appropriate and Education goes hand and you cannot have one without the other. Sorry to say this I have met some nurses who are meant to be highly educated and thinks it is below them to get their hands dirty. So does anyone out there have the definition of what is a good nurse

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  • NHS Nurse | 4-Mar-2011 3:26 pm

    your attitude is shallow and insular, if you think 'education' is the be and end all...get out now and leave the profession to those who believe care, compassion and communiction are important. I certainly don't want someone like you ever caring for me or my family......

    A degrre may give you the skills to debate the results of research results/conclusions.. very different. It will never, ever give you the skills of life or the person you are

    Anonymous | 4-Mar-2011 9:56 pm

    There has been a lifelong debate about the definition of nursing. The bottom line is 'do to others as you would do have them do to yourself''...and your family and cared ones.

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  • NHS Nurse | 4-Mar-2011 3:26 pm

    I agree with the above post

    Who is --- the Mother of God?

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  • excellent article. we only entrust the care of other human beings and the sick to nurses who think like this. there is no room in the profession for anybody who thinks otherwise!

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  • some people have managed to get themselves into nursing but DO NOT NURSE, let alone care.

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  • I agree with the above posts. A smile can wear rather thin after the nth time someone has shouted at you or verbally abused you. Whilst I agree that the profession needs to go forward as a degree only profession please do not let it detract from the caring and compassion needed to nurse as well . There are many nurses in the profession who lack compassion but are good academics. Combine the two qualities and the right mix ought to be acheived

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  • Perhaps if some took note of what is being said in the article above instead of voicing their own arrogance they may find something to learn about the right attitude needed in nursing.

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  • I find it interesting that education is always spoken of as a separate issue from compassionate care. Compassion is not something everyone is born with buckets of or been shown, and yet it is learnable and nurtureable. It concerns me that is is put forward as some kind of elitist club that there is no hope of joining without the say so of those elite enjoying such rarified kudos.
    I would, if I was brave, suggest some emotional learning is a necessary part of the nurse's path, using whatever their starting material is and springboarding from there with no limits set by anyone else.

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  • This was an excellent article. Yes, good communication and compassion are essential qualities and they can be nutured with experience. However, skills go hand in hand with emotional side of the job. It is about having the right mix - knowledge, skills, empathy, compassion and humility for our fellow human beings - in my opionion, that is what makes a good nurse.

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