Angels with dirty hands

August 11, 2011

Thank you for publishing Roger Watson's article on why we need nurses to be educated to degree level in the UK ("We need the IV leaguers", 28 July).

As Watson makes clear, there is absolutely no evidence to show that graduate nurses are "too posh to wash". The derision heaped upon them by some newspapers reflects the most base, chauvinistic elements in our society. It reeks of a journalistic laziness that would rather pander to antiquated prejudices than investigate and report on the facts.

This is a shame because nurses practise in complex clinical and social environments. As Lord Darzi (a surgeon, no less) has argued, we must have 100 per cent graduate entry in UK nursing if we are to deliver safe, effective and high-quality care in the future.

In Wales, graduate entry was introduced in 2004. The students we accept, after a rigorous interview process, are kind and thoughtful as well as intelligent; many are mature students who bring invaluable life experiences with them.

To gain a professional qualification and be awarded a degree, they complete a three-year programme that consists of 50 per cent theory and (importantly) 50 per cent practice. Our students put in the longest hours in academia, with most studying a five-day college week followed by "hands-on" shifts in hospital and community settings.

The course is certainly not for the fainthearted nor for the lazy. Those who are "too posh to wash" (or "crachach" as we would say in Wales) are soon weeded out.

A few go on to take PhDs or professional doctorates because research is rightly perceived as vital to increasing our evidence base and improving patient care. I took my doctorate the hard way - on a part-time basis while holding down a full-time post - and most of my fellow lecturers did so, too.

Nursing academics work the longest term times of any discipline, with two intakes of students a year: nevertheless, this has not prevented us from doing well in the last research assessment exercise and working hard towards the research excellence framework.

Across the developed world, graduate nurses, those with PhDs and those in nursing academia are accepted and respected for their hard work and commitment to the discipline: it is a pity that the UK cannot bring itself to do the same.

Ruth Davies, Senior lecturer, Department of nursing, Swansea University

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