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Should nursing be a degree or was it better in the good old days?


“That wasn’t how we did it when I trained,” is a phrase Student NT editor Alisha Poole has heard on numerous occasions throughout her training. And it’s left her wondering, was it really so much better to train as a nurse before the degree course? 

alisha pooleAdult branch Student NT editor, Alisha Poole

Looking back to the debate on the change stating that all new nurses must have degrees back in 2009 there was a lot of resistance towards it in the first instance. Despite evidence showing that highly educated nurses provide high quality care.

Personally, I would rather know why I am performing a task and understand the pathophysiology behind a disease, or understand the contraindications of certain drugs and why that is.

I feel that armed with that knowledge, I am able to provide a high level of care for my patients and answer any questions they might have and help to put their mind at ease. There has been no other group of professionals that have had to argue that they are not “too clever to care” or “too posh to wash”, and I find it astounding that anyone even has a problem with having a well-educated nurse providing their care.

The NMC’s chief executive, Dickon Weir-Hughes, said: “Raising the minimum level of education programmes to degree is essential in ensuring that future nursing students are fully prepared to undertake the new roles and responsibilities that will be expected of them by end of the programme.”

“You might find something you studied in university fires something up inside you and really captures your interest”

Frankly, I agree with him.

Your degree will open doors for you, you can move on the do a masters degree, or even a PHD. If you utilise your time in university wisely you will qualify and be extremely well educated, helping you to feel more comfortable when you take on your first role as a newly qualified nurse.

You will understand what is going on ‘behind the scenes’ in the body, the reasons certain physiological manifestations are appearing and what to do about it.

You can help to educate your patients and their families. You might find something you studied in university fires something up inside you and really captures your interest, such as the heart, you could go on to specialise in cardiac nursing.

“Students are a great source of hope for the future of nursing, we are an inspiration, an asset and a credit to the nursing profession”

You could become a nurse leader, inspiring change and good practice in everyone around you. You could end up leading a team of other nurses or travelling the world helping people. The possibilities are endless.

Taking on the degree requires a lot of sacrifice. We sacrifice the ability to work reasonable hours to pay our bills. We sacrifice our social life and our holiday time to study or work at clinical placement. We sacrifice our evenings and our weekends, and sometimes our family time.

That sacrifice should be acknowledged. Students are a great source of hope for the future of nursing, we are an inspiration, an asset and a credit to the nursing profession. Letters and cards from grateful patients and mentors/staff teams are a testament to the high professional standards and quality of care we provide.

Our degree is something we should be incredibly proud of.


Readers' comments (8)

  • It was different in the past. In the fifties, and sixties students spent much of their time cleaning and then being on night duty with a Night Sister visiting.The demography of the population was very different, and conditions and treatment.
    You could enter Nurse Training with a pass on a test or two o levels and become a Sen.
    Contemporary times demand more qualifcations because Nursing is a research-based profession .Never mind, the advantages to patient survival rates and quality of life.However, I am sure people would rather see a female Nurse in a hospital without a degree, wearing a dress, cap and
    stockings.The RCN and government are coluding in developing a level of asssoicate Nurse,"apprentice Nurse leading to Degree. Why go to university to pursue a career?Also, as the poster demonstrates no other profession is being accused of "being to posh to bother with patients".Why not have a TA instead of a teacher, A O.T aid instead of a degree O.T, A vet nurse instead of a Vet.
    I am not denigrating the work of differently qualified people who helped our nation(the sen role came about because of shortage of nurses, and many were "made up" to to their role because of their contribution to our society, as did many of the people asked to work for us from other countries(many of which were qualified to enter SRN OR RMN but put in green belt-sen which was not recognised in many of their homelands therefore they could not return home and practice.

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  • I trained in the hospital based system and I'm very glad I did because I listen to the lack of experiences and restricted clinical placements that many of today's student enjoy, and compare it with the variety of wards and departments I experienced and it feels like a shame for them. BUT, I am envious many aspects of their training and learning. Hubs in community (I had 5 days in 3 years). Spokes in GP surgery, coroner, undertaker, school nurse, LD facilities. They have a more in-depth knowledge of A&P they I ever learnt and rightly so. I have no doubt I would also have loved their training as much as I enjoyed my own, as different as they are. I am fully behind a degree only profession. Evidence suggests it results in better outcomes for patients and I simply don't know why this is still a conversation we are having.

    Comments like this don t help...

    "Your degree will open doors for you, you can move on the do a masters degree, or even a PHD. If you utilise your time in university wisely you will qualify and be extremely well educated, helping you to feel more comfortable when you take on your first role as a newly qualified nurse."
    And talk of using your degree to become a nurse leader and moving on to 'higher roles, not because they are not laudable ambitions but because they perpetuate the myth that degree qualified nurses are indeed too posh to wash. Precious little in this article about being the best band 5 or 6 nurse you can be, which essentially is the level where the bulk of us appear to work.

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  • Hi. Just had to add that i trained in the 1970s well before the course was a degree and we certainly knew why we did things and knew the pathophysiology behind diseases. We werent blindly following orders. As a lecturer now i dont think it is the degree that has altered nursing. Nursing was changing into a more scientific mechanistic process rather than a care based process long before it became a degree.
    When i observe the nursing that myself, friends and family receive today i can see that it falls far short of what it used to be. The reasons are complex, but nothing to do with it being a degree.

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  • It doesn't matter if it was "better in the old days;" we have got what we have got. The way forward is to make the system more effective by having an adequately filled workforce of knowledgeable nurses who are not burdened with intolerable stress (both at work and when trying to balance the household budget).

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  • Completely agree with Janice Clarke. The article is patronizing to nurses who (by the way) have supported hundreds of student nurses down the generations. I too trained in the 1970's, did not follow orders blindly, knew precisely why I was doing what I was doing. Believe it or not, I was even taught anatomy and physiology!! I am SO tired of having to defend myself because I don't have a degree, despite being dual qualified in both adult and paediatric nursing. I have been a ward manager and the quality of care provided by so called educated student and newly qualified, degree nurses was variable beyond belief. Some were excellent - keen to consolidate the knowledge gained in their training, keen to learn and importantly, keen to look after their patients in the best, most skillful way possible. Others wanted to undertake mentorship courses straight out of university. When I asked them how they would mentor and what they felt they would be able to teach student nurses, they hadn't a clue. As I enter my 60th year (working in a nurse led unit responsible for children with complex care needs including mechanical ventilation, tracheostomies etc and managing to work on my own initiative!) I have encountered students in their third year of a degree course who haven't a clue about medications and have never been allowed near tracheostomies. Indeed, if any of our children require hospitalization, a carer has to go with them and work 13 hours without a break as none of the staff know how to manage a patient with a tracheostomy. I did it in my first year of training. Back in 1975. Before degrees. So don't ask me to defend my training when it is propping up the care degree trained nurses are able to provide.

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  • I graduated with a "Masters in Nursing Science" degree from a university which is ranked by the guardian league table as being in the top 10 in the UK for nursing. La de dar for me right? I must be soooo educated and qualified...wrong! I still remember stuttering through my first ever handover as a newly qualified nurse, and realising that I pretty much knew NOTHING!

    In terms of our course content, we were given five hours worth of lectures about medications. Five hours, that was it throughout the entire course! I spent a lot of my own time reading up on different medications etc because I wanted to be competent when I started working, but I didn't need to in order to qualify, there was no final exam or anything. To be perfectly honest, I found a lot of the course was very wishy washy: too much focus on holistic care, reflective practice etc, and not enough on the stuff that we actually needed to know to be safe! Personally I think hospital based, rather than university based, training would make a lot more sense.

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  • Totally agree with the article, well written and well said. From my experience having done a degree course, those qualified that knocked us on going or the degree were mostly jealous anyway, we must've been a real threat to their insecurity. Shame.

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  • I had great training, intense, hard work, and it paid off, placements as well as everything else that came with our training, I resent negative comments that demoralise without understanding the true nature of all that was included. Being assessed and watched in interpersonal skills in the workplace on placements was alsl perg ov it and you were held back and made to do additional courses if not up to standard. So it was a high standard of training that all in nursing should have for ultimate, professionalism high standard care. Yes it did ppen doors as well.

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