Today's nurses should be proud of their graduate status

Jennifer Hunt urges newly quaified nurses to be tall poppies, not shrinking violets

Though I began my training over 50 years ago I can still remember the moment when someone called out: ‘Staff, can you come and check the drugs.'  I looked around and realised that they meant me - a moment not helped by the fact that my uniform was the exact shade of pink worn by the ward maids at Guy's.

I trained under the apprenticeship system. Even A-levels were considered too academic, hindering my or anyone’s ability to be ‘practical’ and ‘caring’ according to several of my tutors – an attitude still common today. Curiously it is a view that seems to apply to nurses alone among the clinical professions. Nobody ever says it about a doctor, for example. Good though my training was I envy today’s newly qualified nurses for having been educated within a university. University is where nurses should be educated – let’s never let anyone persuade us otherwise.

Three years ago England’s chief nursing officer launched the 6Cs: care, compassion, courage, communication, commitment and competence (as if you needed reminding). Their introduction followed the extreme examples of lack of care exposed in the enquiries into Mid Staffs and they have had a great impact. All are important, but they are not enough for the changing world that faces nurses today.

So I thought I would borrow a good idea, but rather than staying with ‘C’ move on, skipping ‘D’ (dull dismal…) to bring you my 6Es:

E for Education – where nurses start from. I hope it will be a continuing and continual process for each and every nurse as you progress in your careers.

E for Enquiring mind – ensuring you ask questions and enabling you to look for, and then apply evidence to inform your clinical care.

E for Expert – the essence of what defines a professional and professional practice.

E for Enthusiastic – getting things done, willing to be involved, taking nursing forward.

E for Empathic – knowing what your patients need not just what they want, anticipating not merely responding. Empathic also towards colleagues to ensure the workplace is a friendly, supportive place for all.

E for Ethical – not just for the big decisions we rarely face, but for all those everyday decisions about things which may seem trivial but on which we should not compromise.

Nursing for me has been a great career; both fascinating and challenging. I hope it is for you.

I have learned that even the most routine activity, like chairing a nursing procedure committee, can result in something important – in my case the world-renowned Royal Marsden Manual –  my proudest achievement.

Meanwhile, I have also discovered that, as with the ripples when you throw a pebble into a pond, a word or an action can reach places you would never dream, touch people you will never know and change what they do or how they feel. I hope you will throw many pebbles too.

Today, nurses and nursing are more necessary than ever. What we do, even the most routine nursing action, is important to our patients. We are the web that holds everything together. Too often that web is invisible or thought to be unimportant, only noticed when it is no longer there. I, and nurses like me, have tried to change that to make the invisible visible. Now it is up to the next generation of nurses.

Yes, the 6Cs are important. But I also think they do not fully encapsulate what today and tomorrow’s nursing should be about. To use an historical analogy, they are Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp. An iconic image indeed. We should also remember the Florence Nightingale who challenged accepted practices, who established nurse training schools, who totally changed hospital design, who sent her nurses the length and breadth of the country to spread her new ideas and improve the care of patients, and who influenced policy at the highest level.

So I urge our up-and-coming nurses, hold your heads up high as a graduate-entry profession. Be tall poppies – not shrinking violets.

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