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'Student nurses are keen to dispel the myth that they weren't clever enough to become doctors'


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.”


Readers' comments (43)

  • I'm a 3rd yr degree nursing student - and have really enjoyed my training - however, the move to degree status may prevent some very good compassionate 'would be nurses' from starting or passing this course due to the degree status - yes, knowledge and skills are important but it goes together with the caring/compassionate qualities that nurses also need. Some very academic people may easily get through their nursing degree, but will they also be caring individualls and have the hands-on approach? Some will but sadly, some will not - good best side care remains vital - also it may be worth remembering that it is often the little things, which are important to patients.

    Lastly, I dont believe nurses do their training because they do not feel that they are clever enough to be doctors - student nurses surely begin their training because, first and foremost, they want to care for people?

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  • Adrian Bolt

    I love the picture it would make a great caption competition.

    "Hey Shirl what does this bit do?"


    "Where is his willy? Thats why we really came into nursing"


    "As my mother always said ""The quickest way to a man's heart is via a gaping chest cavity""

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  • Outstanding, I absolutely agree with the sentiments of the headline and the article.

    Anonymous | 21-Jul-2011 6:53 am there are a couple of points I have to disagree with you on. The first is that the degree status profession would prevent good 'would be nurses' from starting and that those who do get through may not necessarily be 'caring'. This is a very old and very erroneous argument. I will admit that every now and then someone who should not become a Nurse may slip through the cracks, just the same as in any profession. HOWEVER, and it is a big however, that does not mean in any way shape or form that those people who do get through the course with a good level of academic ability are any less caring than those without the academic ability to get through. People CAN be both. And I would expect that the majority of the time, those who weren't caring would still be 'weeded out' for lack of a better term out on placement. However, for those people who may be caring but do not have the academic ability to get through, then there are other roles for them. I believe that it is necessary now to insist that people coming through Nurse training and into our profession have BOTH the caring qualities of a Nurse and the academic ability to do the job.

    As for your second point, I agree that is not why we as Nurses choose the profession, but I think you missed the point slightly, it is more about public perception. There is for example often an assumption when one chooses to become a Nurse and go through the Degree that we weren't quite up to scratch to do a medical degree, and this is the myth that needs to be dispelled (amongst many others).

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  • I failed most O levels, and would probably struggle with A levels, but I passed the old GNC test on two occasions with very high marks. However I trained as an SEN because of locality rather than ability, and was priviledged to train in a small hospital where pupil nurses were not second class nurses but the only trainee nurses so were trusted with quite a lot. There were nurses there with A levels who could have become doctors but in a rural area, and a chance to work part time, nursing was their choice.

    I have reflected a lot on this issue of "intelligence", especially having a high functioning autistic son (with a BSc Hons). Also my personal experience in the academic system when I returned to nursing and completed both a BSc Hons with the OU, then a "degrees worth" of nursing modules at what is now Level 6 and 7. Yet I struggle to pass Level 4!!!
    The lower level assessments just don't allow me to express what I know. Not understanding the question does not mean I don't know the answer, I just struggle to know the boundaries... a learning disability?

    A psychologist called Howard Gardner (you can GOogle him easily) has written a lot on multiple intelligences where he advocates that just because someone has a good academic ability, it doesn't make their other kinds of "Intelligence" good pro rata.

    I really do think our institutions haven't caught on yet that they are judging entrants on one thread of intelligence alone, often to the loss of others such as emotional intelligence and spatial intelligence to name just a couple.

    Assessing people on academic intelligence alone is one great flaw in the system in my opinion, and why we will continue to scratch our heads in wonder at why such "intelligent" people can sometime do such stupid things or not know how to apply what they know.

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  • Adrian Bolt

    While I accept that some Doctors are really stupid and some Nurses are really smart on average, all other things being equal, I think most Doctors are probably academically brighter than most Nurses.

    It’s a shame the Prof Ieuan can’t just accept this fact and get on with the business of training nurses but then for the good professor, “teaching” as he does at a second rate former-polly, he probably feels the need to big his own role up as much as he obviously thinks we need to big ours up.

    According to the NHS careers page

    “There are no national minimum entry requirements as each higher education institution (HEI) set its own criteria. However, these are generally around 5 GCSEs or equivalent at grade C or above in English language or literature and a science subject for a diploma programme and 5 GCSEs plus 2 A-levels or equivalent for a degree programme. All applicants must be able to demonstrate evidence of literacy, numeracy and good character.”

    While for medicine the same website only says

    “Good A level grades or the equivalent are needed for most student places.”

    Sheffield medical school which is probably not the most prestigious medical school in the country is currently asking for 3A,s for entry in 2012.

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  • Makes me laugh really all this debate about academia. At the end of the day, whatever the entry requirements, and whatever the outcome, Diploma or Degree, no-one will be offered a job higher than Band 5. After all, it is experience as well as academia that a newly qualified nurse needs, for the sake of the patients they are to be caring for as well as improving their expertise. It will be the performance of the individual post initial training that will take them through the ranks, if that's what they want.

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  • Lard Wheel Inn | 21-Jul-2011 3:05 pm

    'While I accept that some Doctors are really stupid and some Nurses are really smart on average, all other things being equal, I think most Doctors are probably academically brighter than most Nurses.'

    I agree - and, it does not matter ! What matters, is that people are good at what they do: the problem, touched on by some posters, is that unlike forensic pathology, nursing requires a certain amount of 'caring'. So being a good nurse, requires a sufficient level of intelligence and theoretical knowledge, but it also requires 'an attitude towards care unrelated to very-high intelligence'.

    mike has a strong desire for 'nurses to be seen as the equal of doctors' and yet he also accepts that nurses are different from doctors - the public are quite aware, that nurses are different from doctors.

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  • Adrian Bolt

    Cogito @10:42am,

    I agree it matters not one whit that Doctors are on average cleverer than nurses, but the move away from an apprentice style training towards a university based education, (with its emphasis on academic achievement and ability), suggests that it does to the likes of Prof Ellis.

    Anon @ 21/07/11 3:01pm

    “Not understanding the question does not mean I don't know the answer”

    How does that work exactly, understanding the question would appear to be a pre-requisite for knowing the answer would it not? As for multiple intelligences, assuming they even exist, how would an academic institution test or assess for “emotional intelligence”? And isn’t the move towards a more academic form of nurse training expressing a desire to move away from any attribute other than IQ. Emotional intelligence in the context of nursing sounds suspiciously like what we used to call “having a vocation” which is practically a dirty word in Nursing these days.

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  • Most professions at a so-called higher level can easily become blinkered, and nursing is so diverse that nurse can often identify issues 'outside the box' to coin a phrase. So can the public. Just because the nurse, AHPs, the public, etc. haven't become doctors or surgeons doesn't mean that they are thick. This becomes especially apparant when, as a healthcare professional, you have a relative (or yourself) as a 'patient'. Everyone has a role to play and the focus is one 'listening' to each other, not on 'status' or 'so-called' intelligence.

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  • above penultimate line should read 'on' not 'one'

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