10 January 2013

The apprenticeship sorcerers

UNIVERSITY OF HULL, UK—As the festive season approached, I looked forward to a fortnight away from work when I could safely read the U.K. newspapers without finding cause for alarm. The end of the year is usually reserved for funny stories, advertisements by charities and reflections on the past year. However, I was wrong.

On 27 December 2012, The Daily Telegraph featured a piece titled “Become a lawyer with no degree, pupils told,” and I realised I was not going to make it to the end of the year without controversy. I made an entry on my Twitter feed the next day: “UK government wants lawyers trained by apprenticeships not degrees – parallels with nursing? where will this go?” which elicited some responses from nursing colleagues and a lawyer I know well.

I was surprised that the nurses seemed less bothered about this thinly veiled criticism of university education than the lawyer! While I trained as a nurse under the apprenticeship model and enjoyed and appreciated every day of it, I have long defended the value and necessity of nurses having degrees and the fact that there is no evidence that having a university education reduces their ability to care. There is room for both aspects of preparation in the nursing curriculum.

I was actually more interested in what the response of the legal profession would be and, specifically, if nurses with degrees would feature in it. And guess what? There were several letters in reply and extensive entries in the letters page weblog under the banner “Qualifying for a profession without taking a degree – or running up debts” and, of course, both sides of the argument were represented.

There were two references to nursing, as follows: 1) “The Government may mean well by its plan for an apprenticeship route for traditional professions, but it is ill-founded. Unless other industries, such as hospitality and nursing, abandon the requirement for a degree, a peculiar imbalance will be introduced into the higher education system.” 2) “SIR – And while we are at it, can we also please return to apprenticeships for nurses?” I find it strange and infuriating that nursing is juxtaposed with the hospitality industry and is used as an exemplar of where university degrees are inappropriate. For my non-United Kingdom readers, I must say that this is a uniquely U.K. phenomenon; the value of degrees for nurses has never been questioned—in my experience—in the United States, Australia, the Far East or Southeast Asia.

It did not end there. The year was nearly over when The Sunday Times, never a great supporter of academic nursing, managed to include nursing in a retrospective swipe by Minette Marrin—foremost amongst our critics—at everything that had annoyed her over the year in a piece titled “Pesky clerics, Europhiles, nurses’ leaders – it’s all change for you” on 30 December 2012. Referring to the frequent reports of poor nursing care in the U.K. media, Marrin questioned the purpose of nursing leaders in the United Kingdom; easy and obvious targets, of course, but not the people directly responsible for the delivery of poor care that appears to take part in isolated pockets such as the Mid Staffordshire Foundation National Health Service Trust, where a bullying culture has developed and there is a general cynicism about continuing professional development—the very thing usually criticised by people like Marrin.

Therefore, 2012 ended on a slightly negative note from my perspective, but a new year lies ahead and, while reports of poor care and unwarranted criticism of academic nursing in the United Kingdom will continue, I have a lot to look forward to elsewhere in the world. In 2013, I will visit Italy, Finland, Canada, Bahrain, Hong Kong, China, the United States and Australia. I look forward to blogging from some of these places.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

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