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Renewing reputation of nursing is an ‘essential priority’, says CNO for England

Enhancing and renewing the reputation of nursing and midwifery is a top priority to ensure the future growth of the profession, chief nursing officer (CNO) for England Dr Ruth May has claimed.

In her keynote speech at the CNO Summit in Birmingham, Dr May said work on improving the reputation of nursing was needed so that it ‘accurately reflects the reality and importance of our work’.

She expressed her belief that there is ‘no public awareness’ of what being a nurse involves, with stereotypes of the profession still lingering within the public’s perception and acting as barriers to entry.

She said: ‘We know there is no public awareness of what being a nurse actually entails. In the popular imagination, doctors provide expertise and nurses provide comfort, that nursing is about mopping the blood on the floor, holding hands and clearing the vomit.

‘The role of nurses and midwives in medicine and safety, research, and technical and clinical care is not spoken about enough – and that leads people to think that nursing is for people who aren’t academic enough for medicine, suggesting we aren’t anywhere near as technical, professional or skilled as we know we are.

‘And we also know that we don’t always get that messaging right ourselves. Historically, our messaging has sometimes unintentionally played into these views. That is the challenge, but also the opportunity. It is time we take control of our own reputation, of our own sense of self. If others are to value us, we have to value ourselves.’

Speaking to delegates, she outlined ways to change perceptions about nursing, including expanding the ambassador network to 5,000 nurses by April 2020 – a group who promote the profession as part of the Nursing Now England campaign.

Dr May also launched future nurse mini uniforms as part of a plan to begin boosting the reputation of nursing to children.

‘It goes back to what children dress up in and what they want to be. Their ambitions from when they were so young, the futures that they can imagine and see for themselves,’ she said.

In a conference session that featured words from Maddison Donnelly, a 10-year-old girl who wants to follow her mother into mental health nursing, Dr May added: ‘[The future nurse mini uniforms] will encourage young people thinking about a career in nursing from an early age, in a way that breaks down historic stereotypes.’

Dr May said the lack of men in the workforce shows ‘how embedded stereotypes are in us’. She said: ‘Even today, every time I said nurse, most of you would have probably thought of a woman. We can help to address our staffing issues if we show men and society the true nature of nursing and midwifery.’

Work to improve the reputation of nursing was featured as part of Dr May’s three-priority CNO strategy, which she said would be important in ensuring nurses are able to deliver on the Long Term Plan.

She announced that the other two priorities within the strategy will focus on ways to address the workforce shortages, and methods for helping nurses and midwives lead change across the NHS.