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Professional courage as a skill in nursing education

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Within every nursing course, student nurses across the UK are learning the theory behind important leadership skills, explains student nurse, Leanne Patrick. 

leanne patrick

From essential communication and interpersonal skills to professional courage, educators are training the future workforce of an NHS facing the biggest crisis of its time. In the hope that we will not simply join the ranks, but instead go on to transform modern healthcare; student nurses are being trained to challenge the status quo from the moment we enter our first practice learning environments.

Respect for student nurses continues to be a contentious issue, however.

In the average cohort, it is a minority who have not experienced some degree of poor treatment from other professionals.

As we return from each placement, horror stories abound. Theory of professional courage can fail many of us when confronted with the daunting realities of navigating a new and difficult environment.

Despite contributing thousands of hours of labour and the most up to date evidence based practice; the significant role of the student nurse, while clearly defined in a practical sense, is one that many students find intimidating to defend in terms of value.

Developing the courage to consistently assert ourselves is crucial as we lay important foundations for our future careers. From the earliest opportunity, practical leadership skills in the form of professional courage must be supported within nurse education.

Caught in a cyclical situation of poor working conditions, with low staffing adding to workload and pressure, the emotional labour involved in nursing leaves little energy for enthusiastic unpaid mentorship.

In fact, many nurses are choosing to leave the profession entirely with 45% more nurses leaving the nursing register than joining between 2016 and 2017 with “working conditions” cited as the top reason. Now, more than ever, we must not only attract the right people to the profession through the image we project but we must also begin to transform the way that nurses see themselves.

And we must begin with the student workforce.

Underpinning modern nursing practice is the concept of revalidation. We are encouraged to reflect upon our practice and use this insight to develop ourselves both personally and professionally.

This is the same for student nurses within our Ongoing Achievement Records: we reflect upon experiences with service users and their feedback, upon learning experiences and upon mentor feedback.

But we don’t reflect upon acts of professional courage. Theory of courage isn’t being encouraged to translate into practice in the way that theory of care is, despite it being of equal importance and relevance to patient experience.

Whether we are challenging bad practice, evidencing a deviation from the evidence base, asserting our value as members of staff or perhaps even overcoming poor self confidence in an otherwise supportive environment; opportunities to demonstrate professional courage in a practical sense are readily available in every placement experience.

As we complete our paperwork and mentors sign off the skills we have learned, including a reflective account of professional courage in each practice learning environment places integrity firmly at the heart of the future workforce and strengthens the role of the student as one to be respected and valued.

It not only makes it easier for students to defend and evidence their actions, it also standardises professional courage within nursing practice.

All nurses must consistently defend their value and evidence their role. To senior staff, to the media, to their government and to their regulatory body.

The challenges that face us persist and it is only with a strong sense of professional value that we can begin to communicate the significance of our contributions effectively. Only then can we begin to command the respect we deserve, achieve better pay and improve overall morale.

The foundation of this is courage and we must facilitate the development of this skill from the earliest opportunity.

 Leanne Patrick, student nurse


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