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Readers’ panel: has COVID-19 changed the public perception of nursing?

Weekly applause for front-line NHS staff is a feature of the pandemic, but it’s not clear whether this is coupled with a better appreciation of what nurses do

Picture shows people in west London taking part in a Clap for Carers. Applause for nurses is a feature of the pandemic, but whether public understanding of the profession has improved is debatable.
Picture: Alamy

People across the UK are taking part in the Clap for Carers every week, coming out of their homes to join in applause celebrating nurses and other key workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. But has the pandemic given the public a greater understanding of what nurses really do? Nursing Standard readers have their say.

Grant Byrne is a fourth-year nursing student in Edinburgh

The past few weeks have seen an outpouring of support for nurses and our NHS. It has been uplifting to see staff recognised more than ever for their hard work, but translating this support into a shift in perceptions is up to us. We must avoid getting caught up in the tired old tropes painting nurses as angels and instead make the case that we are a diverse, dynamic and safety-critical workforce, central to healthcare worldwide. We will get through this. When we do, and with public support, our next fight will be for fair pay.

Rachel Kent is a mental health nurse in London

To some extent issues regarding the recruitment and retention of nurses stemmed from negative reports and stories about nursing and the NHS. But now no one is denying we do a hard job, that the hours are long and the workload is demanding. The public respect and value us once more, and being a nurse in the NHS is now something to be proud of instead of feeling looked down on. I hope this means more people will see nursing as a viable profession again, boosting recruitment and retention so we can rebuild the NHS workforce and sustain it.

Drew Payne is a community staff nurse in north London

The Thursday night Clap for Carers is welcome, but how many of those applauding understand what nurses do? The pandemic has put healthcare staff in the spotlight, and while the public may be appreciating us more, do they really see us as the modern healthcare professionals we are? If we want to build on this momentum and show the public the full range of what we do for patients, we need to tell them by keeping video diaries and online blogs, and getting the message out there about what a highly skilled profession nursing is.

Stacy Johnson is an associate professor at the University of Nottingham

Yes, it has changed the public perception of nursing, but only temporarily. When this crisis is over the public will likely revert to their default position, which is to undervalue nurses and nursing. You don’t see many other professions preoccupied with what the public think of them, and nursing should adopt that stance. We should stop seeking approval and legitimacy externally and let our practice speak for itself. Instead of worrying about the public perception of nursing we need to focus on our professional identity. If the internal view we hold of ourselves and the value of the profession is strong, a more positive public perception will follow.

Readers’ panel members give their views in a personal capacity only

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