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What makes a good nurse and how much are you willing to pay?

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Student affairs editor, Alan, argues that nurses shouldn’t feel ashamed to admit they want reasonable pay for the work they do

I feel like the issue of nurse pay and motivation became more pressing following the mid-Staffs scandal. We had to recover our reputation and, as a result, designed a framework for nursing that was patient-centred and selfless.

It sounds very nice that we are solely concerned about patient care, but this does not integrate with the realities of working life. So what if we effectively take a pay cut every year? We’re there for the patients. Isn’t this idea of the completely altruistic nurse unachievable? The reality is, if I’m not paid then I don’t help those patients. It is work, very rewarding work, but still work.

“In any other sector, the action would have been championed”

We have recently seen how taboo it is to talk about healthcare remuneration with the junior doctors’ strikes. These doctors were styled as greedy, when perhaps the overriding concern of the campaign surrounded patient safety and doctors’ workloads. Whatever your opinion on the strike action itself, an extraordinary amount of attention was paid to the demand for even the maintenance of current pay. In any other sector, the action would have been championed.

What if I hadn’t gone into nursing just to look after patients, what if that was just the icing on the cake? If I had said in my university interview that I wanted to become a nurse because I wanted to keep learning for the rest of my life, or maintain job security, would that have secured my place as a student? I’m not so sure.

Being trapped into a model that requires a gregarious people person, so giving of themselves as to be unbelievable, really grinds my gears!

“People love to tell me they couldn’t do what I do”

I happen to know I’m a good nurse. I know this because of the way I practice and from what others tell me. But by setting the altruism bar so high, are we setting up to fail those individuals starting out who are less sure of themselves, and those yet to make the leap?

Patients or people I work with love to tell me they couldn’t do what I do. But what do I do that is so unachievable? I believe they simply do not understand, because the myth of the angelic nurse has been so pervasive for so long, that they feel unworthy of the title and all that it entails. This is a real shame, because we need these people if we are to have a hope of filling the gaps when many of our current nurses retire.

“Yes, we look after you, but we are not angels”

The public and our nursing representatives need to get back in touch with the realities of our role and see us as a workforce of professionals. Yes, we look after you, but we are not angels. We have different ambitions, skills and motivations, and all of these combine to create a health service that is fantastic and varied, just like the population it serves. As professionals, we have as much right as anyone to demand appropriate remuneration for our work.

We are worth it.

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