One of the advantages of writing fiction as opposed to sociology, for example, is that fiction tends to invite a conversation whereas sociology often invites an argument.
There are other advantages obviously, in fiction you get to make stuff up, put jokes in and take account of the felt world; or the fact that people feel things, and what they do is often heavily influenced or designed by those feelings. In fact, given nursing takes place in a world full of feelings, it seems to me that fiction is in many respects the best method in which to explore it. However, I may be in a minority with that so we’ll probably be sticking with the sociology in the foreseeable future.
Anyway, over the last four weeks I have been doing readings and talks about my book Stranger Than Kindness. These talks have fallen into two categories. The ones for largely nursing-oriented audiences and the ones for everyone else. Because the book features damaged or hurt nurses at its heart, much of the conversation has been about nursing, so I am reporting it. Because lots of people have been telling me stuff and it feels appropriate to pass it on.
What emerged from the general public was an occasional and inherited irritation with nursing, which was often and usually quite powerfully slapped down by people with a faith in it. In one lovely northern library a lady said crossly that “nursing isn’t what it used to be because nurses didn’t care”, only to be told by two other ladies that nurses had just cared beautifully for their respective relatives and are too easy a target. Elsewhere someone moaned about nurses being “too clever” these days, only to be asked by someone whose daughter was a graduate nurse, when did clever become the enemy of good? In essence, the analysis of nursing is thin and designed by media mood until it becomes informed by personal experience. No surprise there.
Elsewhere among nurses however, it is unsurprisingly more reflective. The themes I talked about were less about restoring the profession’s reputation and more about restoring the nurse and that resonates with the nurses I met. Frankly, they felt unmoved by and unfamiliar with the 6Cs. Not because the words seemed hollow, but because it felt like an initiative being handed down from a distance alongside other slices of policy and expectation. It wasn’t experienced as an expression of sympathetic leadership but as an expression of managerialism.
And that reflection was not made with bitterness. There was warmth, humour and a fair bit of shrugging. We were sure that the leaders involved in trying to reinstigate the qualities of compassion and care are doing it authentically, but the problem seems to be the space between the “leaders” and the nurses and, more importantly, what occupies that space.
It seems to me that in order to help nurses feel valued and supported, and to begin to help restore them, because at heart lots and lots of nurses are tired and feeling a bit battered, we don’t need to just develop initiatives for them to follow so much, as ask them what is going to help. A good leader listens more than she talks.
It will surely come. Post-Francis, after the regulating, the hand-wringing, the punishing and the PR, we will get to the important question. What happened to the heart of the ineffective nurse and how can we help with that? It would be good if that question was addressed by leaders and grassroots nurses together in sympathy with each other.
Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of the new novel “Stranger than Kindness”. Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe