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'As a society we need to reshape our perception of nursing'

Charlotte Hayes
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Nursing is misunderstood; our society holds longstanding inaccurate perceptions of nursing that are difficult to shake off.

Nursing is frequently thought of as a role only for women. Often people believe that nurses are there to provide personal care and little else. Many other countries recognise the value of nursing, in a way England seemingly cannot. In other countries, nurses are highly respected for their knowledge, skill and kindness.

This disparity may be in part due to the funding cut perpetuating a message of nursing being unimportant; our government revoked funding and bursaries for student nurses, while Scotland and Wales have maintained, or even improved their student nurse funding. Perhaps it is the relative high wages many nurses abroad can earn compared to the UK.

For me, the moment I decided to train as a nurse came when I was trying to get in to clinical psychology as a graduate. I was working in mental health as a support worker, and had been invited to a new project that was aiming to address sexual violence in a forensic psychiatric hospital.

We were being given the opportunity to discuss our experiences with some of the most senior people in the service, and help to develop training for staff on how to support victims of sexual assault. It was an incredible project that has since made huge differences to the experiences of victims, both staff and service users, but it is also beginning to reshape the entire service’s culture around sexuality and sexual violence.

“Nursing provides us with an opportunity to make a huge impact on someone’s life every single day” 

What really struck me about the process was that it was not being led by psychologists or doctors, it was nurses. Even having worked in healthcare, I had never thought about nurses doing anything other than direct patient care and later going in to management.

Often when I tell people I am studying nursing, I am met with pity or unmasked surprise. However, no other work could give me the experiences I am having, or the amount of possible directions that I could take my career. 

Nursing provides us with an opportunity to make a huge impact on someone’s life every single day, and with that comes great responsibility, so we take pride in going the extra mile. Making that cup of tea for a relative that you notice is holding back tears, holding the hand of the elderly patient who is disoriented and scared, giving a person the chance to express their darkest moments without judgement.

Nursing is not only the emotional care we provide, it is also increasingly academic work. Often nurses are perceived as the doctors’ handmaid, awaiting instruction and doing menial tasks. Nurses are now taking on much of the work that used to be assigned to junior doctors. They are required to have a huge knowledge of biology, pharmacology, pathologies and countless procedures. Nurses are at the forefront of amazing research, quality improvement programmes and education developments.

The amount of vacant nursing posts in this country is alarming, and set to increase. There are tangible ways that the government could improve this situation, namely offering funding that adequately supports the challenging training nurses must undertake.

However, I believe that as a society we need to reshape our perception of nursing to enlighten people to the possibilities that it offers them, and that it is open to all.

It is a career that requires passion, empathy and resilience; it will be challenging both emotionally and physically. But it is a career that offers some of the most poignant life experiences, a vast academic learning potential and incredible emotional reward.

Charlotte Hayes is a first-year MSc adult and mental health nursing student at City University

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