We need to tell student nurses’ stories to dispel stereotyped ideas about their motivation, says Ieuan Ellis
Professor Ieuan Ellis, dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences at Leeds Metropolitan University, has a bulging to-do list in his new role as chair of the Council of Deans of Health.
This represents the 85 higher education institutions (HEIs) that offer professional health courses. Through this “central voice”, he believes the HEIs influence policy and how it affects nurses and other health professionals.
Universities have a key role in creating the expert workforce, he says, supporting continuing professional development, undertaking research and ensuring there is an appropriate skill mix.
“Universities encourage interprofessional learning and ensure that patients are involved in the design and delivery of courses,” he says.
Academic nurses are “an enormous source of expertise” for student nurses, he adds.
Professor Ellis, until recently the vice-chair at the Council of Deans, qualified in physiotherapy in 1981 and moved into higher education after eight years in practice.
“I’d always enjoyed teaching in a clinical setting, and received good feedback, so moving into a higher education was a logical progression,” he says.
He believes there has never been a better time to be a student, with teaching and learning being transformed by technology.
But he adds: “There is so much information that students can lie in bed and access that they may think that they don’t need to come to a lecture. We need to think of new ways to construct courses and support their learning.”
He points to the Assessment and Learning in Practice Settings programme, which recently won a gold award in the Global Learning Impact Awards. These recognise the most effective use of technology to support learning worldwide. The awards were judged by leaders from academia and industry, including Microsoft.
Professor Ellis says they prove how collaborative universities can be - the project involved five universities working with trusts to develop and deliver learning and assessment materials to students on placement via mobile phones.
He also points to CPD online and simulation of clinical settings.
“These days surgeons can practise being in theatre and airline pilots can fly a plane in simulation settings, so we are doing similar things for nurses,” he says.
While technology has moved on, Professor Ellis believes some perceptions around students have not.
“The move to all-degree entry has made some people think nurses won’t be compassionate, but that’s not what we’ve seen,” he says.
“There is a myth that entry requirements are only about academic achievement. But most universities have face-to-face contact via interview so they can gauge a student’s motivation for becoming a nurse, and involve clinical staff in student selection.”
He adds: “Student nurses are keen to dispel the myths that they only become nurses because they are not clever enough to be doctors.
“There are many bright, able and talented nursing students who love what they do. Their stories need to be told to counter the negative and stereotypical messages that might undermine the value of the profession.”
He also defends HEIs against criticisms over standards of literacy and numeracy.
“I don’t believe there’s a wholesale problem and it’s wrong to conclude all failings are due to inadequate pre-registration education,” he says. “All courses have to meet Nursing and Midwifery Council requirements for numeracy and literacy.”
Professor Ellis knows the higher education white paper is introducing significant changes to higher education funding.
He has concerns about government encouraging competition from private providers to reduce costs, as they could cherry-pick the most profitable courses.
But he is not daunted: “There’s been a brave new world and new challenges looming every year I’ve been in education.”