“I’m sorry, I’m just a student.”
Sound familiar? How many times have you said this while out on placement? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m ashamed to say it’s more often than I can count, especially in the first two years of my training. It possibly stems from a lack of confidence or uncertainty, perhaps a fear that I’d do or say something wrong – something we’re all bound to experience at some point during our training.
But is this lack of confidence a wider issue among qualified nurses, as well as students? Do we sometimes have a tendency, as a profession, to devalue our work and contribution? Do we see ourselves as less important or influential than other health professionals?
I recently attended the 2017 Nursing and Midwifery Conference held by the newly formed Manchester Foundation Trust at Manchester Royal Infirmary. The keynote speech was given by Dr Eden Charles, a leadership coach and consultant who has been successfully supporting individuals to create cultural change in their organisations, including the NHS, for more than 30 years. He recognised that as nurses and midwives it is in our nature to give, to put others first and to sometimes put our own needs on the back burner. But, he said, with that sometimes comes a tendency to lack confidence in our huge strength and contribution as a profession. He said he often hears nurses refer to themselves as ‘just’ the nurse and is always baffled because of how important the role really is from the perspective of patients.
As student nurses or midwives, we are on the cusp of joining the largest professional body in the health service who are in a unique and privileged role as both care givers and advocates for patients. Although not yet registered, we are still an integral part of the nursing profession and make a difference in many ways to care in the NHS. The more confidently we value our contribution, the better we can speak out for our patients and give a voice to those who otherwise might not be heard.
In his speech, Dr Charles said: “Never say ‘I am just a nurse’. Change that story to ‘I am a professional nurse’. Put yourself into the world boldly and confidently as people who deserve to have a voice.” He challenged us to be ‘nursing rebels’ or ‘rebels for compassion’; to acknowledge our strength and abilities in order to gain greater influence and make changes to practice that really matter. He reminded us that leadership can be found at all levels, not just at the top; we all have a responsibility to bring about the changes we want to see. It’s not always easy or straightforward, but as students we can make positive changes by living the values that brought us to nursing or midwifery in the first place.
So I’m making a promise to myself and I hope you will too; I will never be ‘just the student’ or ‘just a nurse’ ever again.