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No time for reflection

Helen Lewis asks if health professionals and our patients are going to suffer when nursing becomes an all graduate profession ...

2009 was a very busy year in one way or another - it all started off fairly quietly but by about April things were starting to heat up.

When I started off on my nursing career road I did not really have a plan. That said, I suppose the only plan was to satisfy my lifelong ambition of becoming a nurse; I did not really give any thought to the concept of degree or diploma nursing.

Eleven years on and so much has changed, not only on a personal level but also professionally. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have embarked on another course, which will give me a specialist practitioner qualification in practice nursing. The first module is coming to a close, and if I am truly honest there have been times where I have been completely fogged out - but by equal measure there have been times where the sun is shining and the sky is blue!

I suppose the message I am trying to convey here is that there is always going to be uncertainty when you embark on something new; but in many ways, it can be exhilarating finding out what you do not know and at the same time acknowledging that you enter into something with a great deal of knowledge to begin with.

We have had the nursing degree in Wales for some years and now England is planning to roll out the graduate programme. There is going to be uncertainty at the beginning as there is in anything new - you have only to think about your first day at a new job. How were you feeling? Anxious, excited, in a state of panic?

Looking into the future, an all-graduate nursing programme may seem an ominous event, but for those who are thinking of coming into the profession, take heart - it will not make you too posh to wash or too educated to care if nursing is something that you have wanted to do all your lives. It is not a profession where there are millionaires but it is steeped in history and has hard-working, committed individuals within it.

There are going to be individuals who, for whatever reason, believe that they are in some way better because they are undergraduate students. However, a degree does not give you experience, and mentors should not forget that we have all come into the profession under different training schemes - and to date, and possibly for evermore, there is no single way that is better than any other.

The profession of nursing is one that is forever evolving and we are in a constant state of change - new equipment, new procedure, nurse-led care and nurse consultants … the list is endless. The question we must all ask ourselves, and each other, is whether or not the profession and, in turn, our patients, are going to suffer as a result.

I am biased because I completed my nurse training under the degree programme, but that has not made me any less caring or wishing to give my very best to my patients. What it has done is open up an altogether new sphere of nursing - one where I am not afraid to question the status quo.

Do not be anxious about graduate nursing students - embrace and encourage them to learn the fundamentals of nursing care, engage in discussion and, with proper guidance from experienced mentors, move this profession forward (the only direction to go). For those of us old enough to remember the film Gumball Rally, do you recall the Italian driver who said, "The first rule of Italian driving - what is behind you does not matter!"

I am not suggesting for one moment that what has gone before any of us is irrelevant; but when all is said and done the nursing profession will move forward regardless of the skeptics. What matters is that we all engage to ensure that the essence of the profession is not lost in the depths of the university library. Be brave, this is no time for reflection.

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"We have all come through different training routes and to date not one has been found to be better than any other. The fact is that nursing had to change because patients themselves have changed - many patients are more tuned into their conditions and we owe it to them to offer the care which is current and up to date and I feel that the only way this can be done is to equip the profession with the necessary knowledge skills and attitude to care for our patients - I would be mortified if my degree in nursing only permitted me to do admin behind the computer - that is not what the degree is about" - Helen Lewis

"As someone who trained in the 70s, I firmly believe that doing a degree in nursing will not necessarily make better nurses. They will be too busy on computers doing admin. Who is going to be doing the 'proper' nursing at the bedside?" - Ruth Auchterlounie, Fife

"The profession needs to ensure that there is a wide entry gate to access a degree level course of study, not everyone will have the required GCSEs but they may have NVQs in care which should put them a firm career ladder enabling them to reach their goal of registration" - Francine Nutt