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'From Paltrow to polymaths. When we see talent, why remove it?'


Gwynneth Paltrow is of course very famous. Well known for sobbing at the Oscars and, my wife assures me, for being in “lots of films”.

“Name three,” I said

“That one about the country singer.”

“The one about Johnny Cash? Wasn’t that River Phoenix?” I offered.

“No River Phoenix is dead. You’re thinking of his brother,” sighed my only source of celebrity information.

“His brother is Gwynneth Paltrow? Are you sure you know about Gwynneth Paltrow?”

“I never said I knew about Gwynneth Paltrow. But she was in Iron Man and she had her head chopped off and put in a box in Seven. And she seems very smug. Now shut up.”

Frankly I may have to start using Google for my journalistic research but anyway Ms Paltrow and her husband, nasal pop singer Chris Martin, are looking for a tutor to their children. Should you be interested in the post you will need fluency in four languages, including Ancient Greek and Latin, the ability to play two musical instruments up to grade 8, and to be knowledgeable in philosophy, painting, art and chess. You will also be required to be sporty - specifically, proficient in sailing and tennis. Oh and you need to be nice too, not uptight or harsh. In short, you need to be a kindly polymath with a hint of genius. In return you get paid £62,000 a year, nine weeks’ holiday, a rent-free flat and first-class air travel as you zoom around the world trying to convince a couple of kids to put down their Nintendos and practise some verbs from a language only 11 people speak.

Now I have no idea who is going to get this job but to be honest I like them already. I bet whoever gets it could, if they wanted, build their own house. And operate on a sickly family pet should the circumstances arise. Using only a butter knife and some orange peel. Indeed, to be honest, I like them so much I think they are too good for this particular job. If you are that able and talented is £62,000 a worthy salary? There are estate agents who earn more than that. Hell, clinical psychologists earn more than that and all most of them do most of the time is state the obvious and nod a lot.

I suppose the obvious question for the talented polymath is how will you make a living? Not much call for translators into Ancient Greek, I suppose. Grade 8 saxophonists will probably lose out in the jazz band to John Coltrane. Good at tennis… but as good as Nadal? Breadth of talent is not, in itself, easily rewardable is it? Which is something that nursing has been aware of for a long time.

The recurrent revelations around care failings currently in the news remind us of many things. One of the least talked about is that not everyone has the talent to care.

For some time being able to care well has been denigrated by the investment in technical knowledge and skill that has helped professionalise nursing. However, the complex capabilities that enable the talented to care well and consistently need to be re-emphasised. Of course one of our problems is that we reward those who are brilliant at caring by “promoting” them to a higher-waged role that, quite bizarrely, does not involve any caring.

We reward the talented by removing them from doing what they do well. And what do we put in their place? Well, whatever we can afford. Talent, in whatever form, should always be encouraged I believe. And when that talent enriches lives, it should be revered.


Readers' comments (9)

  • Well said!

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  • As always, well put forward.

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  • michael stone

    Promoting people away from what they are good at, is not very helpful, as you say.

    I'm not sure what the answer is here - it would seem to involve better pay for nurses who 'stay put', which will of course be resisted by the 'bean counters'.

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  • michael stone | 14-Jun-2011 2:33 pm

    " would seem to involve better pay for nurses who 'stay put'...."

    That is precisely the answer, Michael.

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  • michael stone

    Mags | 14-Jun-2011 9:34 pm

    So, do you see the problem as insoluble ?

    Or, do you think it would be possible to have better pay, in relative terms, for nurses who 'stayed put on the front line' and did not 'train up, and move out' ?

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  • michael stone | 15-Jun-2011 12:02 pm

    Hi Michael. In this climate, I'm sorry to say that I think that there's a snowball's chance in hell of frontline nurses getting better pay!

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  • Mags you may be right, but we should still fight for it.

    What is needed in Nursing is a well defined and solid career pathway with a range of advanced roles at the top (advanced Nurse practitioner, Nurse physician, whatever) that recognise the range of diverse skills and advanced qualifications we have in a clinical, caring envioronment, and alongside that, the pay levels to match at each level.

    It may be unlikely in this envioronment, but it is not impossible. We all as a profession need to fight for this and the advancement of Nursing.

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  • michael stone

    I agree with both of you.

    And, mike, re the 'seat on the board' thing; I am pretty sure that DH material was very confusing, and badly written - I am now fairly certain it is indeed ONE board.

    But - and I'm not sure if the RCN, etc, have 'fully spotted this' - the proposal is for a 'DISTANT' nurse to be legally required on the board (see my posting this morning in the seat on the Board debate).

    I wish people would be clearer, when they describe things ! Idiots like me, get confused by using different names, in the same of nearby sentences, to describe the same thing !

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  • mike | 15-Jun-2011 11:39 pm

    Absolutely agree with you Mike. Although, I remain pessimistic about our chances for decent remuneration, I still hope and that keeps me fighting!

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