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'Nursing is now unattractive – a bit like David Cassidy'


I did a workshop with some practice teachers this week.

They were a charmingly formidable group of nurses, some with 30 years’ experience, none with less than 20. They were a lively, thoughtful and, typically, self mocking group of mostly women. One felt that they could - if they had so chosen - have marched on parliament and, if not seized power, certainly have given the naughty twins a very stiff talking to.

We did what the over 45s do - took the mickey out of the 1980s and reflected on how we had aged better than David Cassidy.

When they talked about nursing, they premised their reflections on the assumption that, while politicians come and go, nursing remains constant. They worried that the modern nurse had forgotten that “caring” was the core activity of nursing and we talked about that.

They also reflected on what else they might have done instead of nursing. “I love what I do but, if I had my time again now, I don’t know that I would choose nursing,” said one, adding: “I certainly don’t want my daughter to be a nurse.”

Which is interesting, isn’t it? Some of the group were hoping their daughters would go into nursing, others hoping they would not. Nobody mentioned their sons becoming nurses, by the way.

And it occurred to me - and I know I should be imprisoned for this - that as things stand I don’t want my daughter to become a nurse.

Of course if she said she wanted to I wouldn’t try to dissuade her, not like I would if she said she wanted to join the Army or All Saints or the Liberal Democrats, but I don’t want her to nurse. Does that make me a bad person? A poor advocate? A fraud?

I don’t mind the lifetime of mediocre income she would sign up to. And I think the work itself remains a more valuable labour than pretty much any other I can think of.

But - and I hesitate to type this - I think I worry that it may hurt too much; that the emotional labour, the relentlessness, can hurt too much.

And I worry about a working life where she would be taken for granted by prissy, pointless politicians.

It may be that I am applying this paternalism to the child she is rather than the woman she will become.

Other nurses have said to me in the past that they would not want their children to become nurses because they want “better” for them, and they do so knowing the contradiction between admitting there is better to wish for while still advocating, fighting for and even loving nursing. Do we consider a career in law or medicine “better”? Because of status? Pay? Respect?

I don’t aspire to anything for my child except health and happiness but, hand on heart, I cannot hope she goes into nursing, not as nursing stands now. I think it demands too much.

I spent a day thinking about why I have that gut reaction to something that has been such a large part of my life because that instinct unsettled me.

I decided that I had come to suspect that there is something abusive about nursing in the current climate - it manages to demand too much from its practitioners and it assumes that demand is normal.

I think we need to do something about that. Because, in my heart, if I cannot recommend it to my own child, how can I justify recommending it to anyone else’s?


Readers' comments (20)

  • I resent the idea that modern Nurses have forgotten 'care' is a core part of our profession. This is an attitude I have come across again and again by many older Nurses and it really annoys me. Just because we are degree educated and put more emphasis on a wider range of clinical skills than in the past, etc, it does not mean we do not care!

    As for your other point, I do tend to agree. If I had children I'm not sure I would want them to come into this profession, there are times that I think I wouldn't have done so given my time over again. But that is not because of the profession itself. I love the job itself. I just can't stand the pay, the lack of respect, the working conditions, the politics, etc. There is only so much sacrifice for a career that anyone can give.

    You are exactly right Mark, and it is a shame.

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  • I do not fully agree with Mike that skills and education are perceived as nurses lacking care in their roles.
    However, if the politicians only care about banks and their next directorship; DoH is so far removed from pateint care it is uncanny, and make ongoing changes that only make sense to the building managers at the DoH; Trust Managers and leaders are too wrapped up in the changes to support or lead nurses, then nurses feell devalued and 'uncared' for. So how can nurses be perceived as caring when they are looking over their shoulder for the next double decker change to hit them.
    Despite this the majority of nurses try to care within their own internal resources having been stretched by political pressure, demanding roles and lack of 'care and leadership'.

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  • Anonymous | 25-Jan-2011 11:54 am Have you heard of the term 'too posh to wash?' I have, many times, (just look at past articles on here for example) because Nurses are now much more educated and clinically skilled than their forebears. It is complete rubbish.

    I agree with you on everything else however, but it isn't just the next double decker change that we are being hit with, it is the repeated body blows of poor pay, poor working conditions, low staffing levels, stress, etc. I wouldn't recommend this profession to anyone now.

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  • I think that 'care' is intrinsic in a person despite when they trained or to what level.

    I am often cross and frustrated at the lack of true recognition for nurses, and the general treatment that many nurses endure, but overall nursing has given me a lot, and diversity in a job that is probably quite rare. However, I have sons and would not really want any of them to be nurses EXCEPT and this may be worse than Mike just not wanting his daughter to be a nurse.. except if they didn't have other options.... Obviously I wouldn't try to stop them if they really wanted to do it.

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  • Mike said that he would not want his non-existing children to go into nursing...he did not specify gender. And Mark said he would not want his daughter to go into nursing in a way that suggests he has a daughter but doesnt have a son.

    Neither my mum, gran or step-dad wanted me to go into nursing...

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  • halfanurse, exactly right, thank you. I did not specify a gender because it is unimportant to me. Son or daughter, doesn't make a difference. There is enough sexism in Nursing already (believe me as a so called 'male' Nurse I have recieved my fair share) without me adding to it.

    Keeping away from that debate however, I think Sara makes a good point. That of the better alternatives.

    We are all highly educated, a lot of us to degree level and beyond. We are all highly skilled professionals with extremely marketable skills. We have sacrificed a lot to give our all in a public service.

    So why do we put up with the conditions of this so called 'profession'?

    There are many, many alternatives out there to people with our education, skill and professionalism. There are many, many people who get a lot more from their career for doing a lot less.

    Could any of us in any conscience advise children capable of entering Nursing to enter this 'profession' when they can use all those attributes to enter a profession that will pay them a lot more, give them much better working conditions, maybe not as much job satisfaction but a hell of a lot less stress and dissilusion?

    I know I couldn't.

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  • You would dissuade your daughter from joining the Army. As an ex army nurse I can say being an army nurse is extremely satisfying - can't comment on joining All Saints though!!

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  • sara | 25-Jan-2011 8:19 pm

    'I think that 'care' is intrinsic in a person despite when they trained or to what level.'

    Sara, I couldn't agree more, and am sick of a lot of the threads on any topic turning to 'degree or not' and/or 'older v younger/modern nurses' (relating to when they trained) as in these comments.
    mike 25-Jan-2011 2:46 am 'Just because we are degree educated and put more emphasis on a wider range of clinical skills than in the past' and
    mike 25-Jan-2011 7:43 pm 'Nurses are now much more educated and clinically skilled than their forebears'
    If that isn't darn insulting I don't know what is! Perhaps Mike you should 'care' more about your colleagues too and then nurses would stick together instead of being dragged into these draconian debates. Have you heard of 'divide and rule', you seem to be feeding it?

    -and mike again 25-Jan-2011 2:46 am 'I just can't stand the pay, the lack of respect, the working conditions, the politics, etc.' and 'There are many, many alternatives out there to people with our education, skill and professionalism.' Why are you still a nurse, you have a 'degree', use it elsewhere, if these are your feelings? Don't tell me, 'you love your job' -Mmmmm!

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  • BR, not at all you seemed to have missed the point of that statement slightly. Those are often may of the reasons sited when stating that newly qualified staff are 'too posh to wash' (a look back at a lot of the threads on here on the issue will show that) and that is what annoys me. Perhaps I didn't state it very well but my point was although the profession is different now than it used to be, the core of our paradigm is the same. If you don't want to be part of these draconian debates, why don't you offer some insight yourself into the thread rather than just agreeing or disagreeing with others?

    Now as for your other statement, no I do not 'love' my job for many of the reasons stated above and believe me there have been times when I have asked myself is it all worth it. However, the same reason I got into the profession is the same damn reason I go into work every day despite that. I have worked too long and too hard for my role to just give up, I would rather stay and try to fight to change things. Would I recommend anyone come into the profession as it stands? No, absolutely not. Do I think the profession needs a wholesale change? Absolutely. Do I wish more Nurses had the balls and the backbone to speak out and bring about that change? I think that goes without saying.

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  • will advise my daughter to be a banker/politician etc
    if you carnt beat em!!!!!!!!

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