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‘Society needs nursing in a way it cannot even explain’

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THERE was a time when people liked nurses. If a nurse walked down the street, some would wave, one or two may have applauded, many would utter the ‘angel’ word and go about their business, that little bit more secure knowing that kindness walked the earth and it called itself nursing.

THERE was a time when people liked nurses. If a nurse walked down the street, some would wave, one or two may have applauded, many would utter the ‘angel’ word and go about their business, that little bit more secure knowing that kindness walked the earth and it called itself nursing.

Yes, people liked nurses. They admired and trusted them. They didn’t want to pay them much but that’s a whole other matter.

That warm glow has passed with the onset of ‘professionalism’. If a nurse walks down a street in her uniform now she’ll end up disciplined by the infection control nurse. The pay is better, there is still some admiration but I suspect some of the faith has gone. But then we’ve lost a lot of faith in a lot of things, haven’t we?

Modern nurses are, we are told, altogether different from the brow-mopping doctors’ handmaidens of yore. They do everything now. They assess, treat, operate and manage. They even make decisions on who is and who is not for
resuscitation.

Indeed, nursing these days is such a broad church it is virtually a cathedral without any walls. Which almost makes the job ‘nurse’ impossible to define.

There are over half a million people on the nursing register. And there is a massive variation in the things they do. Some are doing jobs like doctors’, some like social workers’ and some like occupational therapists’. Some are doing jobs that have little or nothing to do with their original training but still have the word nurse in the title, while others are doing something similar to the work being done by nurses 40 years ago.

So what is it that binds all those people on the register, doing all those different jobs, under the word nursing? Increasingly, probably very little.

Of course we try to unite the ‘profession’ by ascribing it common values or beliefs. And we’ve got that code of conduct that we’ve all memorised, although it’s pretty similar to everyone else’s code of conduct. However, we can no longer define a nurse by her or his activities. There are too many.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps nurses no longer need to feel part of a large historic family to do their jobs well.

Maybe in the future the only thing that will unite nurses will be some kind of foundation training for a year before they take different routes to specialist or generalist roles.
But I can’t help wondering if perhaps society needs nursing in a way that it cannot even explain. As a force for good – a manifestation of compassion and care that is unconditionally present. A kindness that cannot be banked on anywhere else in society outside the family. And, if nursing itself becomes so diluted, and so disparate and broad, among all the wonderful gains, might there not be one or two significant losses along the way?

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