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Should we stop complaining?

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There’s a time and a place for negativity, but we should focus on the positive, writes Student Nursing Times editor Heather Phelan

heather phelan student editor 2

In March, the chief nursing officer for England said that as nurses, we need to share more positive stories about nursing.

While she acknowledged the challenges and difficulties nurses face every day – such as low pay and understaffing – she said that this was the best way to encourage more students into nursing.

This got me thinking. Lately, it feels like all any of us do is complain. There’s an epidemic on my course of moaning – and I’m not immune to this – but we seem to find anything to whine about.

“My placement is too far away”; “I’ve already done a rehab placement”; “I was under-marked on an essay”; “My lectures are too boring”; “My mentor won’t let me do anything”.

This term, enough was enough. I’d had my fill. I was sick and tired of looking at the bad side of everything. Maybe I wasn’t under-marked on that essay; maybe I should have put more effort in. Maybe if my mentor isn’t letting me do anything, I should talk to him about it.

And maybe, instead of complaining that a lecture isn’t interesting to me, I should stop looking at it as entertainment, and start thinking about what it’s teaching me.

But it didn’t stop there. On my last placement, the nurses warned me about the horrors of nursing – “It’s too hard on your feet”; “The pay is too low”; and “You’ll switch to a medical degree in a few years, right? Don’t get stuck in nursing.”

I was exhausted from dealing with such negativity every day.

I wanted to yell at these nurses, “This was your choice. You chose to be here. You’re helping people. If you don’t like it anymore, then leave. Do something else. If you’re worried about money – you’re in the wrong job.”

This isn’t to say that all their complaints aren’t valid. Nursing is among the most unappreciated professions out there.

We all know that we’re grossly underpaid, overworked, and facing difficult challenges every day. But there is a time and a place for complaining about these things.

It’s so important to have a national discussion about these issues. If we’re frustrated about low wages, maybe we can channel that feeling into something productive – going on a march, signing a petition and taking an active role in the fight. Complaining helps no one, and it gets us down.

Yes, there are some battles to be fought in nursing, but what we do is incredible and important, and a privilege. If you focus on the positive and change your mindset, it can become the rewarding, meaningful job that it should be.

It would be so easy to dismiss what I’m saying here with, “You’re a student – wait a few years and you’ll be just like the rest of us.”

Hey, maybe that’s true, or maybe we need to hold on to this feeling of excitement and optimism. Because when times get tough and the negativity gets to you – that feeling is all you have.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • Hi Heather
    It has been a pleasure reading your article . I am not even a student yet , i have been accepted and will star in September on a Mental Health course , however since I decided to change careers at 39 years of age i have been reading everything I can about nursing and honestly all you see or hear is complaints.

    As you said it could be that when I finally became a nurse ( in 3 years time) I may became like them, until then I prefer to believe i have chosen the right profession and that if needed I will fight for the needed improvements however i won't only complain, if you are not happy about something do something to change it , well that is my life motto .

    I truly believe that all the negativity that we hear on the news, read on the newspapers influence younger people not to join such a beautiful profession , with its problems yes but beautiful regardless .

    Thank you for the article

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  • This completely resonates with me, I'm sick to death of the moaners who just drag you down. I'm a naturally anxious person so anything negative tends to put me on edge but I've just had a gutsful of it all. I think the most exhausting thing sometimes is listening to the whinging!

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  • I read this article few days ago and it has stuck with me for a number of reasons. I am student nurse and have experienced exactly what you describe, but I see it in a very different light.

    I feel very strongly that the term negativity in this context is in itself a dismissal of genuine distress. By suggesting that they need to be more positive you are ignoring the very real hurt they are experiencing. Many nurses are working in extremely difficult situations. To tell them that if they are worrying about money because they can't pay their bills, they are in the wrong job is crass in the extreme. At a time when we have more nurses leaving the profession than joining it is also unhelpful.

    As student nurses we join a team when on placement and these people are our colleagues. It is part of our job to listen and support them. Take the time to talk about why they are feeling this way and I guarantee you will find people who care passionately about their work, but have lost hope and a sense that they can make a change.

    Instead of telling them to stop being negative help them to see that you are listening and that there are ways to make real change. Help them refind a sense of passion and agency. As a student nurse you have a priveleged position in that you bring a new and fresh view point and energy to a team you work with. You can be real and powerful force for supportive change.

    Far from saying that, if longstanding and experienced nurses express their frustrating and upset at a system that is causing them real stress and not allowing them to provide the care they want to, that they should leave the profession, I may be inclined to suggest that if you are not even able to listen to, care for and support your colleagues through a difficult time than perhaps you are on the wrong course.

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