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'There will be fewer trained nurses and their role will be largely supervisory'


We quiz Sara Owen, professor of nursing, and the dean of the Faculty of Health, Life and Social Sciences at the University of Lincoln, who has been a nurse for about 30 years.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?
My father was a doctor and my mother was a nurse so it ran in the family. I always wanted to be a nurse and didn’t really consider any other career.

Where did you train?
I trained as a general nurse at Guy’s Hospital in London, then did a post qualification course in oncological nursing at the Royal Marsden Hospital. Finally, I trained as a psychiatric nurse at the Maudsley and Bethlem Royal Hospitals.

What was your first job in nursing?
Staff nurse on a gastrointestinal surgical ward at Guy’s Hospital.

What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?
I sometimes procrastinate, especially if the tasks are difficult or not interesting.

Whom have you learnt most from in your career and why?
Gunna Dietrich, a senior nurse tutor at the Maudsley Hospital School of Nursing. She was an inspirational psychiatric nurse and teacher who taught me skills I have used throughout my career. Amalia Gallego, a senior lecturer at London South Bank University where I did my BEd in nursing education. She inspired me to develop a research-oriented academic career.

What advice would you give someone starting out?
Make the most of opportunities as they arise. Keep abreast of health and government policy so that you are always aware of the direction of change and can adapt accordingly.

What keeps you awake?

What is the most satisfying part of your job?
Seeing students graduate, supervising dissertations, building up a strong cohesive faculty executive team, and seeing the faculty flourish.

What’s your proudest achievement?
Personally - having my two children. Professionally - completing my PhD.

What do you think will change nursing in the next decade?
Care will be provided increasingly in the community. Hospital care will become increasingly specialised. There will be fewer trained nurses and their role will include a large supervisory element.

If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?
The poor practice that continues in some areas.

What do you think makes a good nurse?
Compassion, intelligence, good interpersonal skills, confidence, and political astuteness.

What would your ideal weekend involve?
A long walk somewhere beautiful, a delicious supper in a pub with a log fire, and staying overnight in a lovely hotel.

If you could spend an hour in someone’s company, who would it be and why?
The actress Kristin Scott Thomas for some tips on how she manages to look so glamorous at nearly 50.


Readers' comments (19)

  • Adrian Bolt

    What keeps you awake?

    I had the same trouble when I was doing my nurse training.

    'There will be fewer trained nurses and their role will be largely supervisory'

    And there you have the nub of the problem, who is going to do the "nursing" when all the nurses are doing "supervisory" roles.

    The recent move to place nurse training in Universities, making nursing an "academic" profession risks pricing nurses out of the jobs market ltogether as unqualified care assistants and support workers do all the jobs that Nurses used to do.

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  • Or on the other hand Edwin, it will make a stronger case for us to get the pay we deserve instead of the derisory salary we get now!

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  • Adrian Bolt

    The pay we "deserve" will soon be determined by the market and if you think what you are getting now is derisory now take a look at what the voluntary/ private sector is paying people to do a broadly similar job. And that is without the final salary pension and other in-service benefits you are getting working for the NHS for which you could probably add another £10 - £15k to your current salary if you were working outside the NHS.

    I have said this before and I will say it again. I don’t think I am badly paid for what I do and the hours I work. Friends of mine who work in private industry are paid more but they work an awful lot harder and are subject to an awful lot more stress than I am. Not a popular thing to say I know but public service workers have been shielded from the harsh economic realities of the modern world for a long time and it shows.

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  • Edwin, you're having a laugh, right?

    Bearing in mind our profession is highly educated, highly skilled, highly regulated, with a large amount of responsibility and accountability, and the fact that health care is a singularly necessary societal profession, let us compare our pay with that of a Bankers, for example. You think a city banker performs a more important role in society than we do? No? Yet they get far more pay plus millions in bonuses. Let us compare our pay to a binman, it actually isn't that much different, yet I would argue our role is FAR more essential, and those able to do the role are far harder to come by; you don't need a degree to empty a bin, for example, so why should they earn almost as much as we do?

    And you think those in industry are far more stressed and work harder? Now I know you're taking the proverbial.

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  • Adrian Bolt

    Bearing in mind our profession is highly educated, highly skilled (&) highly regulated.

    And soon to be out of work if our lives become anymore “regulated” by which I think you mean protected.

    "You think a city banker performs a more important role in society than we do?"

    Not more important, not less, just different.

    "Yet they get far more pay plus millions in bonuses."

    Some bankers get millions in bonuses, the number of bankers in the wage bracket you allude to can probably be counted on the fingers of both our hands. The rest of this much maligned group of workers, like us, could probably be described as middle income earners. The average salary of a branch manager in the SE is about £32k which is what I am on and the manager of a bank is not going to get six months off sick on full pay followed by a further six months on half pay when he needs it or a final salary pension when he retires either.

    The basic salary for a bin-man on the other hand is about £17.5k or £21K if you are the driver (for which you need an HGV license). Without bin men society would probably grind to a very smelly halt in less time than if all the nurses went on strike. Remember the refuse strikes of the 1970’s? Bin men earn their money believe me, it is hard smelly and unpleasant work for which they are paid considerably less than we are and they have to work outside in all weather as well so I don’t know where you are getting your figures from (the Daily Mail I suspect).

    “And you think those in industry are far more stressed and work harder? Now I know you're taking the proverbial.”

    And you clearly don’t know anyone who lives outside the rarefied and protected environment of public service. It will come as quite a shock when you end up working for Virgin Healthcare or BUPA and find out what your services are really worth on the open market.

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  • There are a number of issues here edwin.

    'Not more important, not less, just different'.

    That is where we differ, you see, as I hold the public services, health, teaching, military, policing, firefighting etc etc in far more regard than I do jobs such as banking, business, retail, manufacturing, etc. Whilst those jobs are important too, and provide people with a living (which I will always respect), quite simply the public services are more fundamentally important. The most basic society wouldn't exist at all without healthcare, protection, etc.

    'the basic salary for a bin-man on the other hand is about £17.5k or £21K' (you didn't include overtime or holiday pay in that, as I know binmen who earn considerably more on that basis). You just made my point for me there, why should a job requiring no quals get almost as much as one requiring a degree? It is a dirty horrible job yes, and they work hard, yes, on that we are in complete agreement, but why should those jobs automatically command a high wage? NURSING can be a dirty, horrible job sometimes, and WE work bloody hard too! Isn't the whole point of getting degrees, getting a profession, to better yourself and not HAVE to do the low skilled jobs? There is a low skilled social status for a reason, and there will always be people who cannot or do not want to gain professional quals there to do them So I ask again, why should they be paid an equivalent wage? If I choose to better myself, struggle to get a degree and beyond, gain a profession, then I should be on considerably more than someone who can walk straight into a job with no quals, otherwise what is the point?

    'And you clearly don’t know anyone who lives outside the rarefied and protected environment of public service'

    I know a great many people, and was not always in the public service field myself, thank you. Put simply, working in an office, or a bank, or a shop, or industry, or whatever other career you can think of, whilst having stresses of their own, quite simply cannot compare to the unique stresses of our profession. An open market, where skill in playing with numbers on a computer in an office is worth more than life saving skills, just shows how backward this country is.

    Oh, nice to hear you are on 32k by the way, I'm not - yet.

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  • Adrian Bolt

    Mike you raise some interesting points.

    You hold public service in higher regard that private industry because without public service (health, education, law and order etc) there would be no private industry. Ok that is your subjective opinion and you are right to a point. In a state of nature the life of man would indeed be nasty brutish and short. But the converse also holds true without private industry to pay for it there would be no public service in the first place. If you have any doubts on that point ask yourself how many developing economies can afford a fully developed and publicly funded health service?

    You talk about what nurses”deserve” to be paid. I asked that question of a friend of mine, (he is a contracts manager in a waste recycling company); he looked genuinely bemused by the question. “What do I deserve?” he asked “whatever the company is prepared to pay me”. In private industry people have a completely different mind set to those of us in the public sector. No one asks in private industry what do I “deserve” they ask what am I worth and then they go and find an employer that is prepared to pay them that amount. I think you are confusing “Worth” with “Value” the value of a nurse to society is beyond measure and no doubt we will get our reward in heaven because we sure as hell will not get it down here on earth. But a nurses “worth” is what ever the market is prepared to pay or what ever the government can spare.

    As for your salary don’t worry keep plugging away at what you do and in time with incremental pay rises earned regardless of skill or ability you will get there eventually.

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  • That's if we can manage to keep our increments the way things are going Edwin.

    I see your point, although I do disagree with it, I see what you are trying to say. The difference is, whereas you see 'worth' and 'value' as two separate things, I believe that worth should be linked to the inherent value to society.

    If you'll forgive the extreme example, is the inherent value of a footballer on thousands a week equal to his worth? I think not. On the other side of the coin, is the inherent value of a Staff Nurse equal to their worth of 21,000 a year starting out? Again, no. You are right in that this is what market forces are willing to pay, but it should not be like that. The worth of public service personell should much more closely relate to their value to society.

    There is also another point to consider, take our marketable skills as a Staff Nurse. Many of us hold Degrees and beyond, we hold highly educated clinical skills, we act as managers with the inherent admin skills, we act as teachers and educators, etc etc. Are all of these marketable skills not enough to demand a higher worth?

    At the end of the day, I do not believe in a reward in Heaven or the next life, so I think we should get our rewards right now, in this life.

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  • And one more point, taking your 'worth' in the public sector mindset argument, imagine if we were totally within the private industry sector for a moment, how much worth do you think people would put on their lives and their health then? Would that equate to our worth now or would it be a lot higher do you think?

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  • Adrian Bolt

    "The worth of public service personell should much more closely relate to their value to society."

    And in a perfect world it would, but this world is far from perfect and to argue that because Nurses "care" for people and are therefore of greater value to society sounds like special pleading to me of the most egregious sort. Who decides what is of greater value, a nurse or a business man? How do you measure the "value" of either. Is a Nurse of greater value than a social worker, fireman or teacher who all "care" for people but in very different ways?

    "Are all of these marketable skills not enough to demand a higher worth?"

    You are always at liberty to take your marketable skills into the market place and sell them to the highest bidder.

    Sainsbury's and M&S are always looking for graduate trainees for their management program if you think these employers would value your worth at a higher figure take them there and find out.

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