My job

I’m proud to be training as a nursing associate – and let me tell you why

Misunderstood role is no mere stepping stone – it has a distinctive place in the nursing team

Misunderstood role is no mere stepping stone – it has a distinctive place in the nursing team


Nursing associates in training Picture: John Houlihan

Since the first cohort of nursing associates started their training in January 2017, the role has been the subject of much debate.

Sceptics have wondered: Is the role nursing on the cheap, an attempt to replace band 5 staff nurses? Is it fair to assistant practitioners who already have similar roles? Should nursing associates be regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)? Is the role just a stepping-stone to the full nursing degree?

Nursing associates are new to the nursing family and all these questions are valid. But what doesn’t seem to be taken into account is that the nursing associate role is important in its own right and deserving of recognition.

Nursing associates bring value in their own right 

I am in the second year of my nursing associate degree and can confidently say that, far from being a threat, we are a valuable addition to the nursing team.

Nursing associates support nurses by providing excellent care – monitoring patients, helping with personal care, doing paperwork and carrying out tasks such as venepuncture and cannulation.

Although we do not handle controlled drugs (CDs) or prepare or administer intravenous infusions (IVs), we ease the workload of nurses by administering some basic medications to patients. We act as role models to band 2 and 3 support workers, providing support and education.

I work on a hyperacute stroke ward and recently supported a band 6 nurse who was co-ordinating the ward and looking after a caseload of patients. Due to short-staffing, the nurse had to go the emergency department to assess a potential stroke patient.

‘I have heard my role described as “the same as a nurse except no CDs or IVs” – this shows a lack of understanding of what nursing associates can and cannot do’

Because of my training, I was able to take over her five patients, monitoring their conditions, writing patient notes and ensuring everyone was properly cared for until the nurse returned. I was also able to give the nurse a full hand over with any concerns. This allowed the band 6 nurse to leave the ward to assess a very unwell and complex patient and make sure they received prompt treatment for their stroke.


As well as bridging the gap between nurses and unregistered support staff, nursing
associates have their own role to play  Picture: iStock

I provide education for support workers

As I have a strong cardiac background, I have taught band 2 support workers about electrocardiograms (ECGs) – how to perform them, why we perform them and how to read them – and I allow support workers (staff nurses too if necessary) to practise cannulation and venepuncture on me.

This helps them to overcome their nerves before cannulating a patient or taking blood, and they get to understand the anatomy and skills involved. I also provide education on infection control issues, and when new nursing associate trainees arrive on the ward, I make sure they are orientated and happy in their new role and answer any questions they may have.

I have heard my role described as ‘the same as a nurse except no CDs or IVs’. Not only is this incorrect, it is frustrating because it shows a lack of understanding of what nursing associates can and cannot do.

‘Healthcare and nursing are constantly changing, and the nursing associate role will continue to evolve as the role beds in’

We are regulated by the NMC, but we are not nurses, nor do we claim to be. And although the role offers a progression route into graduate-level nursing, not all nursing associates will want this – I intend to remain a nursing associate once I qualify and would like to go into clinical education, teaching band 2 and 3 support workers.  

If we are to tackle the nurse staffing crisis, we need to expand our own workforce and the nursing associate role is key to this. As well as being an ‘earn while you learn’ apprenticeship that helps with the financial cost of training, it gives healthcare support workers a solid base from which to progress and develop their careers.

The work of nursing associates is pivotal, and may expand

Healthcare and nursing are constantly changing, and the nursing associate role will continue to evolve as the role beds in. The job description may become broader over the next few years, with nursing associates given more responsibility and autonomy.

The nursing associate role is so much more than a stepping stone – it is a pivotal role in the healthcare team but there is still a great deal of confusion about what we do.

It is therefore up to us, as nursing associates, to make ourselves heard. We need to take the role by the scruff of the neck and do it justice because if we don’t ring our own bell, no-one will know we are here.

We are nursing associates… hear us roar.


Su Hickman is a nursing associate trainee at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford

 

 

 

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