Advice and development

The next generation needs encouragement, not derision

Critical comments such as ‘you're too posh to wash’ only dampen students’ enthusiasm

Critical comments such as ‘you're too posh to wash’ only dampen students’ enthusiasm

Picture: iStock

With financial pressures, long placement commutes and the academic juggling act, today’s nursing students face many struggles.

We were warned about these, in part at least, so had some idea what to expect. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but what we didn’t anticipate was the active discouragement from registered nurses and the disparaging comments about the way we are trained.

My first such encounter was when I spent a day with a nurse in a gynaecology pre-assessment clinic as part of my placement on a gynaecology ward.

During a discussion about how my placement was going, and the degree itself, she said: ‘It’s all good and well student nurses taking responsibility for a patient or a bay, but too many students are too posh to wash and can’t do basic nursing care. The training has gone to pot.’

Eating their young

I was stunned and hurt by this sweeping generalisation, for myself and for all the hard-working dedicated nursing students I know who do everything they can to care for their patients to the best of their ability.  

This nurse’s comments made me feel like my nursing pathway wasn’t worth anything, and that all my blood, sweat and tears weren’t in the name of ‘real nursing’.

Don’t get me wrong, most registered nurses do support us, and those of us who are lucky enough to have good mentors are actively encouraged to learn why ‘basic nursing care’ is so important. The healthcare assistants we work alongside are also invaluable in helping us understand this vital aspect of nursing care.

However, the idea that nurses ‘eat their young’ is still rife, with some lamenting ‘the good old days’. But if these were the days when nursing was an even more female-dominated vocation, rather than a profession, perhaps they are looking at them through rose-tinted glasses?

Constant change

Nursing as a profession is constantly changing to reflect the needs of our patients and population and in May last year the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) published its new standards of proficiency for registered nurses.

As well as reiterating the importance of patient-centred care – this has never gone away – the new standards focus specifically on nurses being autonomous practitioners who provide expert, evidence-based care, who promote and protect health and think critically, providing leadership in often challenging environments.

A degree encourages and fosters all of these skills and gives us the knowledge to truly understand the theory behind the practice. Other healthcare professions - such as doctors and allied health professionals - are never criticised for having a degree, so why are nurses?

I understand that today’s NHS can be a stressful place to work, with more complex patients than ever, significant staff shortages and poor pay. I don’t blame nurses for feeling demoralised. But please don’t take it out on a student who is half way through their training, arguably the hardest point.

Show us how

Surely it would be better to channel that energy into showing students how worthwhile, important and wonderful nursing can be. Instead of putting us down and making sweeping statements about what we are or are not capable of, show us how to be good nurses by nurturing and encouraging us.

All we want to do is nurse. Please help us on our way. 

How to cope with negative comments

Remain professional: It is easy to get upset and want to defend your position, but the best way to counteract this kind of behaviour is to act with kindness and humility and show others how good you are

Speak out: If you feel you are being bullied or intimidated on placement, speak to your personal tutor, placement lead and, if comfortable, a senior member of staff in the placement area. You are there to learn and feel supported, and it is imperative that anything that makes you feel unwelcome is raised

Seek support: Social media, especially Twitter, is great for keeping up-to-date with the current nursing issues, sharing experiences with other students and health professionals, and finding support. It can boost morale when things are tough, help you celebrate when things go well, and show the world the difference you make as a wonderful nursing student


Rachael Palmer is a second-year adult nursing student at Plymouth University

This article is for subscribers only