Newly qualified nurses

Newly qualified nurse badges may encourage patience – but shouldn’t we all be more gentle with each other anyway?

Short-staffing in healthcare makes fostering a kinder workplace culture essential

Short-staffing in healthcare makes fostering a kinder workplace culture essential

Picture: iStock

When I read that a trust in Yorkshire had introduced badges identifying newly qualified nurses and midwives, I was intrigued.

The acorn-shaped badges are being used at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to let other staff know the wearers are newly qualified, and that they should be patient with them.

As a newly qualified nurse who has been working for just over a month, I can see the advantages; wearing a badge can act as a safety blanket, giving newly qualified nurses more confidence to approach their colleagues.

When you are new to a role, it is impossible to know where everything is straight away, and you are not usually expected to merge seamlessly into the job and team. I am lucky to work in a very supportive team, but on some clinical placements as a student, I felt stupid if I had to ask where something was or say I didn’t know how to do something.

In admitting we need help, new nurses are promoting safe patient care

The Nursing and Midwifery Council code clearly states that we must only work within our competence. By asking for help we are promoting a safer working environment and safer patient care, so why do we feel embarrassed?

Maybe it’s because staff are always so busy and there are not enough of them, and we feel guilty taking them away from direct patient care to help us. If a badge can remind our colleagues to be a little more patient, surely this is a good thing.

‘Wearing a ‘novice’ badge could have a negative effect on new registrants’ confidence levels’

Good teamwork and effective communication are fundamental nursing skills. I always introduce myself to colleagues by saying: ‘Hello, my name is Ellie, I started here four weeks ago’, or whatever.

But clinical environments are often fast-paced and short-staffed, and if you work in a large team, possibly with a high staff turnover or a lot of agency use, a badge making you easily identifiable as newly qualified would be useful – provided all colleagues know what it means.

Newly qualified nurses Samantha Wilby and Faye England of Bradford Hospitals trust
wear the 'acorn' badges

There are risks in singling people out as newly qualified 

Completing a nursing degree is often likened to passing a driving test: you learn enough to be competent and safe, but the true learning starts once you are working. Some new drivers choose to have ‘P’ plates on their cars, and the acorn badge could be used in a similar way.

‘Reaching a point where a nurse no longer feels newly qualified is down to the individual’

But not everybody wants to be known as the ‘new nurse’, and perhaps we need to be careful about singling out new staff members in this way. As a newly qualified nurse, it is easy to convince yourself that your colleagues think you are rubbish at your job. Wearing a ‘novice’ badge could compound these feelings and have a negative effect on new registrants’ confidence levels.

This also raises questions about how long the badges should be worn for – six months? A year? Reaching a point where you feel you are no longer newly qualified is down to the individual nurse. Some may feel confident enough to no longer call themselves newly qualified after six months, while others may want to hang on to this status for 18 months or longer.

How we see ourselves is often different to how others see us, so this decision may be taken in conjunction with a manager or team leader. But ultimately, whether or not to wear a badge – and how long for – should be down to individual choice.

Some patients may need reassurance about being cared for by an inexperienced nurse 

There is also the nurse-patient relationship to consider. Patients like to ask questions, and many will want to know what the badge signifies. Since I started my first staff nurse post, I have had mixed responses from patients when they learn I am newly qualified. This has varied from shocked looks and unease, to comments such as: ‘I can’t believe you’ve only just started work’ and ‘where was your last nursing job?’

Patients need to know they are in safe hands and are receiving the best possible care. Knowing you are newly qualified may not give them the confidence they seek.

By encouraging team members to be patient with new staff, the badge scheme aims to ensure newly qualified nurses and midwives are looked after, therefore improving staff retention at the organisation.

Self-care and kindness to colleagues

But shouldn’t we be looking after all our colleagues, regardless of experience? In the current healthcare climate, with an ever-increasing focus on self-care, maybe we should all be a little kinder and more considerate to those we encounter on a daily basis.

The RCN estimates there are 43,000 nurse vacancies in England alone. If these staff shortages were properly addressed, and adequate support and supervision for newly qualified nurses was routine across the board, perhaps badges like this would not be necessary.  

Ellie Bullman is a staff nurse on a cardiorespiratory rotation at the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust in London

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