Paul Thorpe

“Nurses are already as important as doctors”

So, all nurses are going to have a degree now. How depressing. The ability of the nursing hierarchy to destroy all that is good about their own profession in a vain attempt to be seen ‘as important as doctors’ and taken seriously politically never ceases to amaze me.

Most nurses are good at their job. I meet nurses who are great at their job every day, as I am lucky to work in a darn good hospital. Those nurses who went in to their job to nurse, I mean to actually look after patients – most of whom don’t have a degree – think it is a pointless and ridiculous idea.

Let’s stop trying to pretend that nurses are as clever as doctors. You have to get better GCSEs and A levels to get into medical school than you ever will to get into nursing school. Doctors will have a higher IQ than nurses. However, if that means that doctors are somehow more important than nurses, then you are – like the RCN – simply nursing the large chips balancing on both shoulders.

Nurses are already as important as doctors in getting the patient through their healthcare experience but their roles are different.

Patients and families don’t want nurses to have done research, or to be too specialised or clever to answer the call bell and make sure that they get their analgesia, or don’t get a pressure sore.

Other health professionals don’t want nurses to be too important to be able to tell them what is going on with a patient that day.

The nursing profession would do better to focus its attention on improving the remuneration and career progression for its members for actually being a nurse. It is terribly frustrating that the only way to currently achieve significant career progression in nursing is to stop doing it, pick up a clipboard and a Blackberry and become a manager. Some of them go on to become very effective managers; many are not, but who can blame then, when the bottom line tells them it’s the only way to climb the greasy pole and get a decent salary?

If we actually helped nurses progress up the bands for staying in their caring role, and didn’t try to populate wards with as many inexperienced band 5s as possible, then standards would rapidly improve with the number of experienced nurses actually on a ward rather than in the boardroom.

Secondly, the key point about being a professional is about being supported and encouraged by your professional structure to take professional responsibility for your decisions and actions. Doctors have this in spades – it is part of the core and fabric of how we work, and it why we will always have impression of ‘being more important’.

However, this is only in the same way as a fighter pilot is seen as ‘more important’ as an aircraft engineer. The job has a more sexy PR profile, but if the aircraft engineer can’t deliver their piece of the team role, the steely-eyed killer sits firmly on the ground polishing the Ray Bans. Nurses are often terrified to take professional decisions, as they often receive very little understanding and support from their professional hierarchy if something goes wrong.

Finally, the most annoying aspect of yet another ridiculous government attempt to solve all the problems of the health service is that it will be – like nearly all of their previous attempts – ineffective and also hugely wasteful. Nursing Standard has obtained the government’s own figures showing that current nursing degree courses are experiencing huge drop out rates. It’s up to 51% in some universities, and up to 78% on some specialist nursing courses.

There are, of course, complex reasons for why this is happening, but it is a criminal waste of money and of people’s enthusiasm to try to shoehorn them through an academic process which has not been designed to deliver appropriate education, and to which they are obviously not suited.

To any nurse who reads this, I hope you don’t feel this is in any way saying that doctors are ‘superior’. What I, and the patients, want, is for you to lobby and petition your political representatives to support and remunerate you for actually doing the things that first drew you into your very important job – nursing.

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5 Responses to ““Nurses are already as important as doctors””

  1. Erin Toner says:

    Hooray! Someone who is talking my language. I am a nurse who was trained ‘the old way’, I went into nursing because I wanted to care for people. I recently completed my degree part-time because I felt I should be up to date, but it has not made me a better nurse. The role of the nurse should be valued and supported, not changed.

  2. linsell says:

    At last , a consultant who recognises that he is part of the bigger picture. I am sure there are many nurses out there who are just as intelligent as doctors but CHOSE not to be one . They actually wanted to be Nurses! funny that . Just because you are a nurse doesn’t mean you secrectly want to be a doctor. I was trained the “old fashioned way” which meant I actually touched my patients , I spoke to them , I bathed them I helped to make them better, now I find the degree nurses have barely had any hands on skills with patients . year 3’s are only just getting to grips with this. having a degree does not make you care any more about your patients, in fact I believe it is teaching you to care less and as long as the paperwork gets done , nobody cares !

  3. Grace says:

    I realise that this is an old post however I felt compelled to reply.

    I am a Nurse and cannot believe some of your statements, such as “Doctors will have a higher IQ than nurses.” Really?

    I have a degree in biochemistry and upon graduation went into research. However after 4 years I became disillusioned and began thinking about returning to study for another career. I eventually decided upon Mental Health Nursing. One of the reasons I chose nursing is that we are one of the only professionals who are with our clients 24/7. We can build up relationships with our clients like no other professional can. Some of our patients have been with us for years and I actually spend more time with them than I spend with my own family! Had I chosen to become a doctor, I would be spending possibly 20 minutes a fortnight with the individual patients, as do the psychiatrists on our ward do. Now don’t get me wrong, doctors do a fantastic job and I have the utmost respect for them, but personally I much prefer the nurse-patient relationship than the doctor-patient one, hence my career choice.

    With my biochemistry degree I could have gained entry into the 4 year graduate entry program for medicine but instead I chose to study nursing for 4 years. This was not because I “didn’t have a high enough IQ” or wasn’t clever enough to do medicine. Nursing and medicine are two entirely different careers. Nurses spend more time with their patients, which is really what I wanted out of a career after spending 4 years in a lab.

    Out of a class of around 40 Mental Health Nursing students around 50% of us had a degree prior to studying nursing and around 65-70% had undertaken some higher education previous to entering the course. Hardly a bunch of people who are academically inferior to doctors.

    Furthermore, academic achievement and the ability to care for patients are not mutually exclusive. I have had wonderful feedback from patients, relatives and colleagues alike. Just because I am intelligent and educated does not take away my ability to nurse. I have met wonderful nurses, both degree educated and those who trained before the degree was implemented who all do fantastic jobs.

    You stated “To any nurse who reads this, I hope you don’t feel this is in any way saying that doctors are ‘superior’.”. Well I do feel that is what you are saying. If that wasn’t your intention, why drone on about IQ’s etc?

    Doctors, nurses and all staff involved in healthcare do a fantastic job in the career of their choosing. Why not just respect that?

  4. […] was required of nurses to obtain a degree. But as Dr. Paul Thorpe noted in a somewhat controversial opinion piece: Nurses are already as important as doctors in getting the patient through their healthcare […]

  5. Shadrach T. Edwins says:

    From this “superior doctor’s” post, I can safely conclude that doctors feel more important than or superior to nurses on a global scale. I have been working as an ASN-RN in hospitals, clinics & community health sector for barely 2 years.During these years, I have interacted with and observed doctors, who had demonstrated their true characteristic superiority to me, a nurse, and my colleagues on the ward. Doctors feel more important than us, nurses due to the following perceived reasons:
    (1) Doctors receive extensive & prolonged education–they first obtain pre-medcical (prerequisite) degree, then medical degree (s)
    (2) Doctors are not as numerous as nurses; their number is somewhat restricted due to (a) the cost of their education, (b) the complexity of their education, (c) the long duration of their studies, etc.

    (3) Doctors earn higher salaries than most nurses due to the following: (a) their administrative positions–health minister, etc, in countries, such as Liberia.

    Doctors reserve surgical privilege–they only conduct surgery & ‘dash’ the post-ops on nurses for safe, effective & 24/7 nursing care, but they (doctors) take the “surgical glory”. Until legislations can authorize nurses to use the ‘surgical knife,’ doctors will continue humiliating us, nurses.

    Therefore, my professional colleagues (nurses)around the globe, let me conclude that doctors are not in any way smarter or more intelligent than us, nurses. The only difference between us–nurses & doctors–is career objective; career goal; career choice. Our calling is Nursing & their calling is Medicine. What then is the issue? New legislations in favor of nurses can make a difference: surgical privileges should be granted to both doctors and nurses.

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