Why it is essential for nurses to have degrees

International Nurses’ Day provides an opportunity for us to reflect on our nursing careers, on how nurses are perceived, and to look to the challenges ahead.

Nursing is an incredibly rich and rewarding career where practitioners see the very best - and sometimes the very worst - that life has to offer. The potential to make a difference to someone’s life is huge, and is probably the most rewarding aspect of the role.

Nurses are at the forefront of the delivery of care. Whether this is in the home or in hospital, during an acute episode or chronic illness, nurses need a deep understanding of anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, sociology, psychology, research methods and economics - just a few of the ‘basics’ required by contemporary healthcare.

Yet there are still some, perhaps outside the nursing profession, who question the need for nurses to be educated to degree-level and beyond, alluding to the stereotypical and often flawed sense of what a nurse is and what they do.

Nurses have to posses the knowledge and skills to deliver healthcare to a very diverse population. Care is delivered to those with physical and mental health problems and learning disabilities, and to babies, children, adults and older people without prejudice or discrimination.

People who are sick, worried, or caring for a family member rely on the skills and experience of nurses to translate, navigate and support them and their families through an incredibly stressful time. A degree-level education is therefore the minimum requirement for practitioners to deliver and co-ordinate high quality care.

People need appropriately qualified practitioners to deliver the best care possible, as close to home as possible, based on the best available evidence. These challenges will continue as the benefits of delivering care closer to home, and the need to keep people with long term conditions out of hospital, are realised.

For nurses and nursing, this means a greater skill set that enables independent working and meets the needs of all who access healthcare, irrespective of age or health problems. The future practitioner will need a deeper knowledge of mental health, child health and learning disabilities, and will deliver care independently or as part of a highly cohesive multidisciplinary team.

Nursing remains a remarkably rewarding career with opportunities at every level to make a difference. But many nurses are shy at promoting their skills and knowledge outside the profession, and we need to get better at this.

It is a privilege to provide care for people, but it is not a right. People have the right to expect the care they receive to be of the highest standard. And for that, a degree is needed.

About the author

Martin SteggallDr Martin Steggall is dean of the faculty of life sciences and education at the University of South Wales