Why nurses need degrees – The perspectives of a student mental health nurse

This week’s Blog is written by Becca Johnson (@Becca5492), a third-year student mental health nurse at the University of Manchester.

This is purely my own opinion on why I feel nurses need a degree level education. I know this is a hotly debated topic amongst the nursing community and there are ongoing arguments both for and against. I wanted to write a blog from the perspective of a student nurse who is therefore only just entering the profession. This perspective is based upon both my academic and practice experiences.

It is currently compulsory under NMC guidelines for nursing registration for people to complete a nursing degree. The course is a combination of practice learning and theory which is split evenly. Student nurses must complete a minimum of 2300 practice hours to complete their degree and join the register, which I believe is a sufficient amount of practice experience.

I believe that having nursing as a university educated profession is a step towards ensuring it is valued and respected to the extent that it deserves. As nurses we should strive to provide the highest quality of care for our patients and for this to happen, student nurses need to be receiving a high level of education. Most other healthcare related professions such as dietetics and physiotherapy require a degree and it is important that nursing is valued on par with these.

My experience of mental health nursing has demonstrated the importance of thinking critically. It is imperative that nurses reflect upon the judgements and decisions that they make. Did what I do help? Could there have been a better way? What were the patient’s thoughts and feelings? What was my rationale for making that decision? Would I choose that option again? Should I have involved others in the decision-making process? Was the desired outcome achieved? My education at university has supported me with my understanding of critical thinking and the associated importance of reflection.

Medicine and healthcare are constantly evolving. We are developing new treatments and interventions, and this obviously influences the way in which we practice. It is imperative that nurses have the knowledge and awareness of how the research that is undertaken informs their practice as nursing is an evidence-based profession. The interventions we support should be provided on the basis that research supports their effectiveness and not simply because ‘we’ve always done it this way.’   In addition to an understanding of how research influences practice, it is also crucial for nurses to have a detailed knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology including mental illness. In addition to this, I believe it is important for student nurses to be educated on the principles and values that underpin nursing such as ethics, communication, public health and health promotion.  A university education supports the provision of this.

There is exceptional nursing practice happening, but poor practice still exists and there is the potential for students to develop poor attitudes and approaches because of their practice environment. I will admit that following my first placement I would sit in lectures, reflect on the content, and think ‘do they know what it’s like out in practice currently?’ ‘We don’t have time for this’ or ‘we don’t have enough staff for this.’ Reflecting upon it, university theory has frequently taught me what should be happening in practice as opposed to what is happening. In addition to this, university helps to provide a support network which is away from the practice environment and an opportunity to learn from people with a wealth of both clinical and academic experience.

In conclusion, I believe nurses should be provided with a degree level education so that they are provided with the right knowledge and skills to ensure they can provide the highest level of holistic care to their patients. A university education also helps to ensure nursing is recognised and valued for the complex, evidence-based profession that it is.





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