19 March 2014

Another expert on nursing!

HULL, United Kingdom—My next entry was to be from Basel—a report on fresh Swiss mountain air and a Who’s Who? of global nursing personalities. And then something annoyed me.

My wife got to the Sunday Telegraph (14 March 2014) the weekend before I did, taking great interest in an interview with Angela Rippon. Rippon is one of our national treasures: the first female newsreader on U.K. television and a former dancer who took the nation by surprise with a famous routine in a 1976 Christmas comedy special of the duo Morecambe and Wise. Now she fronts the occasional television special and co-chairs the dementia friendly communities champion group, something she became interested in after her mother died with dementia. Although my wife gave me some snippets from the interview, she failed—on the basis that she did not want Sunday spoiled—to read out the following quote (page 23): “Nurses themselves say that everything changed when nurses were learning in a university lecture hall, and not in the ward with hands-on practice. Because they trained on wards, they had contact with patients all the time.”

I had to take some time to catch my breath after typing the above; I nearly stopped breathing on Sunday. I am astonished by how ignorant some people are about nursing education and how ready they are to blame the ills on university education. Everything is not perfect; in fact, much is wrong. But pointing the finger at something that took place at a time when things, allegedly, got worse is simply irresponsible.

Since the halcyon days of nursing care by good-hearted angels of mercy called to the profession by God, or because they were not clever enough for medical school, so many things have changed—in the U.K. National Health Service, in the profile of patients in hospital and at home, and in our society. Of course, public figures often live in an evidence-free zone where they use their opinions to first convince themselves and, then, by taking every opportunity to air those opinions, to convince others, with each utterance making them more sure they are correct.

Linda Aiken et al.’s recent Lancet paper demonstrates the worth of graduate education for nurses. I doubt that Angela Rippon has read it, would read it, or would change her mind if she did read it. However, the most obvious error in the argument against university-educated nurses is that they do all their learning in a lecture hall. Note how “lecture hall”—as opposed to “classroom”—is often used pejoratively in these arguments, as lecture halls represent the epitome of a university education. The argument is wrong, because nursing students have always, demonstrably, spent 50 percent of their time in clinical practice. This was emphasised recently by the U.K. Nursing and Midwifery Council in response to the Francis Report on appalling standards of care in one U.K. National Health Service Trust.

OK, relax!
Good things continue to happen. Despite my present workload, my first loves—data analysis and writing—have not been neglected.

I, together with my good colleagues, David R. Thompson, PhD, FRCN, FAAN, of Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, and Wenru Wang, PhD, RN, of National University of Singapore, submitted a manuscript to Personality and Individual Differences (PAID) on the scale properties of the Mental Health Inventory. It contained a warning about the phenomenon of invariant item ordering, a desirable property of scales whereby the way in which the scale orders people is the same as the order in which they respond to the questions. Still with me?

The initial response from reviewers was longer than the submitted manuscript. However, we received some expert help on person-item fit statistics from Rob R. Meijer, PhD, professor of psychometric and statistical techniques at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and it has just been accepted for publication. The next paper, using the quality-of-life SF-36 scale will address some problems associated with local stochastic independence of items in questionnaires. It’s all fascinating stuff about which I love to talk, but I wonder why people avoid me in the coffee room?

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. Comments are moderated. Those that promote products or services will not be posted.


  1. Thanks for this, Roger. As someone who admires Angela Rippon for all sorts of reasons, particularly for her impressive fronting of the dementia friendly community movement, I was terribly disappointed seeing her falling into the trap of thinking nursing would be better if nurses knew less about how to do it - the only profession in the world about which people would voice such preposterous bilge. As an academic still active in clinical practice I delight in informing people from a first hand perspective how much hospital care has involved since I started 30 years ago on the wards. That this sometimes has to be said to academic colleagues is a great shame, but necessary nonetheless. Keep up the good work!

  2. Mark, thanks - I too was disappointed in this 'national treasure' and I too admire her for many reasons. It's especially sad that her source of information was fellow nurses.