I was listening to a student nurse this week talking about the transformational nature of putting on her nurse’s uniform. To her eternal credit she made it sound like an enchanted frock. She felt the change that came over her was something about joining a collective, a “group of knowers and doers” and joining demanded something more from her.
It was vague and almost whimsical but it was also, I thought, very insightful - it began to address the complexities that surround joining the nursing profession. Who do you become when you become a nurse? What are you signing up for? Responsibility certainly, as well as frustration, emotional labour, ongoing learning, endless demands, satisfaction, challenge, sadness and a sense - one hopes - of social value.
I wondered how conscious nurses are at the beginning of their career of this range of experience and expectation that will fill their working lives. And I wondered if making some sort of pledge - and I’m imagining a ritualised process here, where it’s said out loud in front of an invited audience that might include Cheryl Cole or The Krankies - might somehow further embed both the values that underpin nursing and the responsibilities that accompany it. Is that going to help nurses? Will the pledge somehow enhance their sense of professionalism or challenge the alleged perception of them being passive or poorly educated handmaidens?
‘MPs have to make a pledge and that has not challenged the perception that most of them are self serving, morally stunted disappointments’
MPs have to make a pledge when they enter the House of Commons and that has not challenged the perception that most of them are self serving, morally stunted disappointments. So why might it be useful - as the Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery claims - for nurses?
Perhaps a statement of purpose, one that celebrates the potential, power and values of nursing, along with its unique role, might be quite nice. But if we are going to do it I think we should do it big. The pledge should be televised and very sparkly. And forget Cheryl or The Krankies; bus in George Clooney and the cast of Ocean’s Eleven. And we’ll need royalty. And nice food and drink. And party games. And some proper dressing up. And dancing. Because if you want nursing to celebrate its values with a pledge, why not take the time to celebrate nursing and what it means?
There may be something patronising about asking nurses to make a statement of professional intent - as if the three year training and the code of conduct had not already done that. But if it is a ritualised assurance that politicians need, they and the pledge they request would be taken more seriously if it was accompanied with additional investment or support. Sooner or later politicians need to wonder what they can do to support the nation’s most important institutions, particularly as they are asking for additional commitments from them.