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'Give me the character and I will make the nurse'


We talk to Lynn Young, primary care adviser at the Royal College of Nursing, who started nurse training in 1966.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

It seemed a good idea at the time. In truth, I was rather determined but cannot remember the reasons why.

Where did you train?

St Bartholomew’s, London.

What was your first job in nursing?

Staff nurse at Bart’s, then ward sister at Hackney Hospital.

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

I probably become rather irritated with people who happen to disagree with me. I’m not very good at saying “no” - I must do better.

What have you learnt mainly from your nursing career?

Life is a complex business and people are even more complex. Things are rarely as they seem. Changing behaviour is a huge challenge and culture is everything - it eats strategy for breakfast.

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

Give it a go. Nursing is a wonderful profession with a huge array of opportunities.

What keeps you awake at night?

Reading, when I should be sleeping - eight hours is my magic sleeping time.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

Contact with nurses from across the UK.

What’s your proudest achievement?

Being told that I am a great-grandmother.

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

Technology, technology, technology.

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

No proper job, but with luck, I will be involved in the aspects of health and healthcare that intrigue me.

What do you think makes a good nurse?

As Florence Nightingale said, “give me the character and I will make the nurse”. Tenacity, energy, empathy, stamina and determination - all elements of an excellent character. Sense of humour, intense kindness and good manners are also important.

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

Depoliticise - which will never happen - halt the constant destructive and expensive reorganisation.

What would your ideal weekend involve?

Being in Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland with five books of my choice.

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

Elizabeth Fry - how on earth did she manage to have so many children and reform prison life for women at the same time? Tim Vine would also be an acceptable dinner date along with Eddie Izzard. He has a quirky, but also wildly intelligent perspective on life. And I could share his make-up and possibly some of his clothes.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Could this be the crux of the 'nurses not fit for purpose' debate?

    Has the character of the female of the species evolved so dramatically in past 50 odd years that we are not prepared to put up with the sort of 'character building' enslavement and bullying so associated with earlier times?

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  • I don't entirely agree with your comments anonymous above, although I understand where you are coming from.

    I think there was something to be said for the ways of the past - no, it wasn't all good but, it seemed to be far more disciplined than it is today. Also, think many nurses came into the profession because they genuinely wanted to care for people - and Im sure many nurses today feel the same, but feel the desire to be a nurse back in the 50s say, was far more simplisitic than it is today. However, like everything, we live in an ever changing World - some for the better and some not.

    Yes,feel there is something to be said for Lynne Young's comments and Florence Nightingale's view of 'give me the character and I shall make the nurse'.

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  • I also agree with "give me the character and I shall make the nurse". I am concerned about the huge emphasis on degree training, and I have heard tutors who are convinced that the main component for an effective nurse is that level of knowledge. That alone is not going to equip a person to survive, let alone thrive in the current healthcare pressures.

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