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'Student nurse education must teach us to argue our point'

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Is nurse education becoming too clinical at the expense of the study of ethics? Student affairs editor, Alan Brownlee, questions potential upcoming changes

Something that qualified nurses often spout to students is that you don’t start learning until you enter your first job.

I can appreciate that point of view, but why say this to me? If that’s the case, what am I now studying for?

This disparity between the needs of the workplace and the education of students is symptomatic of the constantly changing demands placed on nursing staff. So it was with interest that I read a recent article about the possible future of nurse education. A draft of future education plans suggests a move to standardise student nurses’ skillsets before they leave university, meaning newly qualified nurses will gain a limited ability to prescribe and demonstrate clinical skills far beyond what is currently required.

In my experience, there has been a great deal of focus placed on nursing ethics with a view to turning nursing students into practitioners with common virtues.

One could argue whether this is even possible. While my nurse training has taught me to articulate my decisions beyond something being the right thing to do, when faced with demonstrating what I have learned in my two years as a student, it can be difficult to explain the value of this ability.

“We face a time in our profession when our role is being encroached upon”

The proposed changes would go a long way to making it easier for workplaces to take on newly qualified staff, who would know what abilities they must have to qualify.

It’s also worth noting that we face a time in our profession when our role is being encroached upon. I strongly support the introduction of nursing associates because I believe many are already performing this role with little recognition, and it provides an intermediate step for those who wish to advance in their career. But nurses may find it more difficult to differentiate themselves from their nurse associate colleagues unless they take on different roles with more responsibility.

I have said in the past that I want nurses to become the leaders of healthcare, which is why I now see the study of ethics as more important than even practical clinical skills.

“We need to be able to stand our ground in the face of tighter constraints on resources”

If we are to become strategic leaders, we need to be able to stand our ground in the face of tighter constraints on resources. Surely the best way to do this is to argue our point. Nurses are becoming more familiar with this when standing up for our professional rights, but as leaders we need to also do this for our patients on a similar scale. 

To do this effectively, we need to be able to form reasoned arguments, and understand why something is ‘the right thing to do’, in a context of public health as well as the patients in front of us.

The workplace can teach clinical skills, and these skills can help people in many ways, but our NHS does not have the resources to teach its staff about the formation of morals and virtues, or the underlying reasons behind the strategic decisions made by the trust and funding bodies.

“We have the opportunity to use this knowledge to advocate for our patients”

This is where nurses can differentiate. One way or another we are all degree students, and have the opportunity to learn about these areas of health and use this knowledge to advocate for our patients.

So I welcome the teaching of additional clinical skills to nursing students, but let it not be at the expense of our more philosophical learning practices.

They give a broader perspective on healthcare, something I believe will be necessary as nurses inevitably become responsible for more and more patients.

And I don’t mourn the gradual move away from nurses’ traditional roles in the hospital setting. We will still be able to look after our patients if we are able to argue effectively.

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