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?