Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Nurse, can you help me with the Times crossword?"

They were talking on "Any Answers" just now about the plan to ensure that nurses do four-year degree courses. An experienced nurse said "If we're to have the kind of intelligent, caring staff we need, it's important that they have degrees." Hovering in the background of this argument is the widely-held suspicion that this attempt to ratchet up the perceived status of the nursing profession may result in staff who don't want to do the dirty, tiresome side of the job.

Does anybody buy the idea that because somebody has done a degree rather than traditional vocational training then that must make them: a) more intelligent; b) better at the job? I'm sure there are increasing technical demands on nurses but I'm not sure drafting in more university students is going to make that any better. Some of the most stupid people I have ever met went to some of the finest universities. Some of the most capable left school as soon as they could.

Just look at other professions which have been through a parallel process of gentrification. Most of the journalists and editors whose retirement or deaths have been marked recently didn't even get to be in the sixth form, let alone university. Many of the people I was taught by at school had only a basic teaching qualification. Some of them may have had none at all. They ranged, as any bunch of professionals do, from geniuses to those who were barely competent. Education had nothing to do with the distinction. I have friends who are very experienced teachers. Their view is that today's young teachers, who all have degrees, are more polished. This is not the same as saying they are better.

I spent years in a big company interviewing people for jobs and I never once looked at their educational qualifications. The tiniest bit of experience, whether it was professional or a student rag, counted far more than a wearying list of the modules they had passed (for passed read "sat through".) The thing that counted most of all was the glimmer of aptitude that you could detect within two minutes of a personal meeting. Will they be doing that with potential nurses?


  1. I agree in principle and know plenty of super-intelligent people with few formal qualifications, but my father is a nurse and the stories he has of some of the basic academic ineptitude of his colleagues is scary when you think they are responsible for the distribution of medications.

  2. NomadUK4:49 pm

    Does anybody buy the idea that because somebody has done a degree rather than traditional vocational training then that must make them: a) more intelligent; b) better at the job?

    Clearly, somebody does, since this concept is being pushed (along with the idiotic 50% university attendance goal).

    I'm forced to wonder whether this idea, like so many other bad ideas, has been lifted from the US, where nurses have typically been university educated for a long time.

  3. I can see how nursing, like being a doctor, is a matter of learning through experience and if that experience leads to a degree rather than an SEN or SRN certificate so be it, though I can't see what practical difference it would make to the nurses or the patients. Perhaps it could be to the nurses’ advantage if they left the profession and found themselves submitting CVs to people who look at qualifications first, but like you David I used to be in a job which involved a lot of recruitment. What always surprised me was how many people listed their CVs in biographical order, starting with captaining the primary school football team when they were 11 and only reaching any recent work experience at the very end. A word of advice for young job-hunters reading this (you never know): start with the most relevant stuff; you never know if a busy manager will get bored before they reach the good bit.

  4. As James Randi said: "Education doesn't make you smart - it just makes you educated."

  5. Australia has gone down the 'graduate nurse' track. The nurses with degrees are better academically, but they don't want to 'nurse'. The tasks that nurses used to do are now being delegated to 'nursing assistants' or even unqualified temp staff in old peoples' homes. Graduate nurses set their sights on being 'nurse practitioners', a kind of GP Lite. Government's love it because it gives the pretence of offering health services, without the expense of employing so many doctors. Look at the growth of NHS Direct and the NHS Walk-In Centres, all staffed by nurses.

  6. NomadUK4:24 pm

    My mistake, then; the US and Australia.

  7. The father of a friend of mine (an NHS consultant) railed against "the insane and ruthless determination of the RCN to get every nurse a degree" a while ago - about 1982. Seems they are still insane and still ruthlessly determined.

    More recently, one of the privileges of work has been managing several ex-apprentices at BT. They had all left school by 16 (some earlier - at such an age that their "gaffer" had to sign a form accepting parental responsibility when they joined). They regularly demonstrated commitment to the company, common-sense and good decision making and the experience changed my mind about the need and desirability of university eductaion.

  8. I've just spent the past three months at the coal face of palliative care, nursing a partner through cancer.
    The best nurses, the ones I can't thank enough, were the natural nurses, who wanted to look after people. The nurses who called in, ON THEIR DAY OFF, the night nurse who read to W as he lay dying. The Marie Curie nurse who talked the body through to the hearse. Those nurses.
    None of them had degrees. And I can't see what kind of degree course could produce their level of vocation.