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Don’t expect nurses to be role models for healthy behaviours

Expecting nurses to be role models for healthy behaviours is unrealistic, unhelpful and professionally unreasonable, a small UK study suggests 
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Expecting nurses to be role models for healthy behaviours is unrealistic, unhelpful and professionally unreasonable, a small UK study suggests.

To explore whether it is realistic and acceptable to expect nurses to be healthy role models, researchers from Londons South Bank University questioned 25 people from six stakeholder groups who influence nursing roles: practising nurses, nursing students, service users, policy makers, workforce development leads and nurse educators.

Between February and June 2015 they carried out telephone interviews to explore opinions, then asked participants if they agreed or disagreed with 15 statements relating to credibility, responsibility, impact of health behaviours, professional duty and social norms.

Little support

The study participants did not agree that being a role model for a healthy lifestyle is a reasonable expectation for

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Expecting nurses to be role models for healthy behaviours is unrealistic, unhelpful and professionally unreasonable, a small UK study suggests. 


There was little support for intervention or regulation of nurses’ health behaviours by professional bodies.  

To explore whether it is realistic and acceptable to expect nurses to be healthy role models, researchers from London’s South Bank University questioned 25 people from six stakeholder groups who influence nursing roles: practising nurses, nursing students, service users, policy makers, workforce development leads and nurse educators. 

Between February and June 2015 they carried out telephone interviews to explore opinions, then asked participants if they agreed or disagreed with 15 statements relating to credibility, responsibility, impact of health behaviours, professional duty and social norms. 

Little support

The study participants did not agree that being a role model for a healthy lifestyle is a reasonable expectation for nurses, with both practising nurses and nursing students viewing this as individual preference rather than a professional duty. 

The study also found that, apart from the service user group, there was little support for intervention or regulation of nurses’ health behaviours by professional bodies. 

‘Contrary to the view that nurses should epitomise and demonstrate healthy behaviours to encourage patients and to be credible in advice, stakeholders agreed that it was more important to be seen as “human” and understand the challenges of health behaviour change,’ the study authors said. 

But they added that further research was needed to understand the views of frontline nurses and to further explore how the health of staff could be improved. 


Kelly M et al (2016) Should nurses be role models for healthy lifestyles? Results from a modified Delphi study. Journal of Advanced Nursing. doi: 10.1111/jan.13173

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