Opinion: Reshaping perceptions about a career in nursing

Sunday 12 May 2024

Professor Susan Dawkes
On International Nurses' Day 2024, Professor Susan Dawkes, Dean of the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedic Practice, highlights the need to reshape perceptions about a career in nursing and the opportunities the profession offers.

We have a global shortage of nurses and it is critical that we attract more people to this amazing profession. The general public may still have a perception that nurses work in a hospital and care for sick people and indeed they do, but a career in nursing can be so much more. The opportunities are virtually endless.

Nursing has changed so much over the thirty years that I have been a registered nurse. I often reflect on my 17-year-old self-starting life as a student nurse. Never in my wildest dreams did I even think I would have worked in Canada and Singapore as well as the UK.

In the United Kingdom, people who complete pre-registration nursing programmes become registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the professional regulator. This registration is very valuable. Not only does this allow you to work as a registered nurse in the UK but it is also recognised in many countries across the world. While I don’t really want to lose any registered nurses from Scotland, it does offer opportunity to work abroad, whether that is working for a organisation such as Medicins Sans Frontieres or working in Australia or Canada. The world is virtually your oyster!

Healthcare is such a fast-changing environment and it is therefore essential that nurses are educated to a high standard. We know from research that investing in nursing, improves patient care and makes their outcomes better. It is also essential that we invest in nurse education, so that nurses can keep abreast of the evidence-base which informs their practice. Continuing professional development is a must. That’s why at RGU we offer programmes that support the lifelong learning that nurses need. Our School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedic Practice is the premier provider of nursing (as well as midwifery and paramedic) education in the North East of Scotland and are proud to educate nurses at pre-registration level to become staff nurses, and to also educate advanced practitioners, district nurses, health visitors, and school nurses.

We also understand the need for strong leaders in nursing, and that’s why from September 2024 we will offer a Masters degree in Healthcare leadership. We are ambitious for our students. We don’t just want them to deliver high quality care, we want them to be leaders to enhance the care people are provided. We have also seen a gap in the educational provision for children’s nurses working in the community, and again from September we hope to deliver a Masters degree in  Community Children’s Nursing as a specialist qualification. This would be the first programme of its type in Scotland.

While I and many of my colleagues think nursing is a fantastic career with massive opportunities, the appeal for those out with the profession has lessened over the last couple of years. We find ourselves in a position where we have gone from clapping on our doorsteps for nurses during the pandemic, to a situation now where we are facing a significant shortage in recruiting student nurses to start their education in September 2024. It's unclear the reasons for this. Perhaps it is because there’s a lack of understanding about the range of opportunities a career in nursing offers. That’s why we are working with local schools and further education colleges to spread the word about nursing. In Scotland many students are eligible for free tuition fees, and they may also be able to claim a bursary from the Scottish Government. This is very helpful, but these things do not seem to be enough in helping universities encourage people to apply to study nursing.

We also know from colleagues who work in the NHS and wider health and social care organisations, that they are facing challenges in retaining staff. This is a bleak picture and one that we have been proactive in trying to address. I have been part of a Scottish Government Ministerial Taskforce for Nursing and Midwifery which seeks to understand the current situation and to consider how we might do things differently in the future and plan how best to support our nurses and midwives so that they can have long and satisfying careers. I co-chair the education and development group of the taskforce and we are developing recommendations on how we ensure education is accessible for nurses at all levels and how we innovate in the way we deliver our education. There are other groups considering how we attract people into the profession and how we best retain them, how we create a culture that supports nurses and how we promote the health and wellbeing of nurses. I am hugely excited about this work and hope that it will make a significant difference in Scotland.

Nursing is a fantastic career and one which I thoroughly recommend. I want people to really consider this as a career regardless of whether they are completing school or are thinking about switching careers. There are many ways into nursing and so I encourage anyone who is interested to get in touch. We will be happy to share more information or guidance.

Finally, happy International Nurses’ Day to all of our amazing nurses. You do a fantastic job not just on nurses’ day but every day. You make a difference to people’s lives and so thank you for what you do!

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