I am a regular reader, and commenter, on the blog written by ‘Grumbling Appendix’. This week I really enjoyed her latest blog “Glad Tidings of Great Joy” . So much so that I went overboard and made two comments – the latter I am reproducing here because I wanted to share it with my own interested followers. It was stimulated by a response from someone called ‘RGN007’ and if you want to read the whole thread, then please use the link above. But here it is: graduate entry – hurrah!!

RGN007’s comment really resonated with me. I did my nurse training in the nineteen seventies when degrees were years away (I am even older than Grumbling Appendix!). I don’t have a first degree and did a Masters in my mid forties, part time – for my own interest and my own benefit. My lack of a degree qualification in nursing never stood in my way in practice and my (mid-life, part time) Masters has never stood in my way in academia (where Masters is a pretty lowly qualification). But the desire to learn and understand, the thinking skills, the stimulation of studying has really helped me and kept me moving forward. My Masters dissertation focussed on leadership and nursing and has been underpinning my working life ever since. I wish I had understood at the beginning of my career the benefit of the structured and rigorous ‘training’ for my brain that degree gave me. I would have been a better nurse for it. Sadly, in the seventies, girls of my background had no encouragement to go to university, I failed my A levels too, but university had never been on my horizon. I was always bright, but it took until I was in mid-life for me to decide that higher education would fill a huge gap for me and contribute to my capacity to do a good job.

There are many routes into a nursing degree – A levels aren’t essential – there are a wide range of access routes and equivalencies taken into consideration, and I believe (because I see it in our own students in the university I work in) that the students we recruit are no more or less compassionate or caring than any in the past – and I can look back on a good forty years of unbroken experience in the NHS and in higher education.

Having a degree qualification is a proxy for intellectual capacity, the ability to learn and change as a result of that learning, the ability to analyse, synthesise and make decisions based on evidence and best practice. Nurses need that.

Some nurses may demonstrate those abilities without a degree, but for employers having to recruit people they do not know, having a degree is shorthand that says ‘I have these skills’ as well as the specialist subject knowledge. It is those ‘graduate skills’ that can enhance the future capability and contribution of the qualified nurse. For patients, knowing that their nurses have a degree in nursing should be a reassurance and a comfort that they are in capable, knowledgeable hands – instead there is a dangerous media message that knowledge and compassion are somehow incompatible.

It is a major step forward for nursing to be a graduate entry profession. It is a major benefit to patients for nurses to be intellectually competent as well as practically competent. I look forward to the time when a Masters degree is the norm, and senior clinical nurses carry the title ‘Dr’ through rigorous research activity in their chosen specialty which they translate into better care and better outcomes.

I hope when I need to be nursed that my nurse’s name badge says “Hello, my name is xyz and I’m RN, BSc, MSc(Elderly Care)” – as a minimum. In fact I wish name badges carried qualifications now – for the purposes of transparency to patients. But that’s a whole different blog comment!