The challenges facing nursing are well known. Today’s report from the BBC showing an exodus of nurses from the NHS in England is alarming but not surprising. The news comes in the middle of an NHS winter crisis – billed by many as the worst ever – and strengthens the RCN’s view that urgent action is needed to retain and value current staff.
The media is right to highlight these issues, and in doing so, they strengthen our voice as a campaigning organisation. But I also worry that, with so much negativity attached to the profession at the moment, it’s easy to overlook how fulfilling a career in nursing can be.
My own career has taken me from clinical nursing roles to education and professional regulation. I now lead the RCN’s nursing department, which supports more than 435,000 members across the UK to provide high quality care.
When I started out as a student nurse, I never thought I would have such a range of opportunities in nursing.
Nurses today are educated to degree level and, whilst some of the tasks we perform are still the same as when I qualified, much has changed in the way we practise. The population has more complex needs and our role in assessing, planning and giving care has evolved to reflect this.
Nurses lead and manage teams across health and social care, not just in hospitals but also in homes, schools, prisons, care homes and the military. Our members working at an advanced level of practice are a good example of this shift, and how nurses, with this level of knowledge and skill, are shaping the delivery of care for patients and health care services.
Unfortunately, this changing role is not reflected in how the public and the media think about nurses and nursing. In times like these, when nursing staff are under enormous pressure, it’s more important than ever for us to celebrate our work and use it to challenge the perception of nursing. We need to celebrate and articulate the contribution we make, on a daily basis, to the nation’s health.
Whatever the public’s perception of nursing as a career, there is no doubt that patient’s still value the work we do. Nursing remains the most trusted profession in the UK and no other role offers the opportunities to make a different in people’s lives in quite the same way as nursing.
Throughout my career there have been many changes in nursing and health care more widely. The profession has shown that it is able to adapt and embrace change to ensure that patients get the care they need.
Nursing has given me the skills I need to work in a range of roles. As well as clinical skills, it has given me experience of leadership and management, team working, research, budgeting, negotiating and influencing, most of which aren’t immediately associated with nursing, but all of which have enabled me to influence nursing at a local and national level.
We must remember that, as nursing staff, we each have the ability to influence how care is delivered, whether this is on the frontline or by using our experience and considerable transferrable skills in other fields such as research, education, management, politics or policy-making.