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A former paediatric nurse of 20 years tells us why she wrote her first non-fiction book ‘The Language of Kindness’ and how she believes the perceptions of nursing and midwifery need to start changing for the better:
It was whilst nursing that I wrote my first two books of fiction, ‘Tiny Sunbirds Far Away’, which won a Costa First Novel Award, and ‘Where Women are Kings’.
I then completed an MA in creative writing, again whilst still nursing, and it was then that I decided to write a book about nursing as a profession.
I went to the library to research books written by nurses and whilst there was a whole genre of non-fiction books written by medics, I could only find one book, written by Florence Nightingale, that was written by a nurse, and published, which I found really shocking. To me, this said so much about how little the nurse’s voice is heard or even present. So, drawing on my nursing experience of 20 years, I wrote my first non-fiction book, ‘The Language of Kindness’.
In the book I weaved in a little bit about history, philosophy, politics, art, literature and all the things that go with nursing, simply because nursing is not just one thing, it’s all things, all sciences, all humanities and all the arts.
Improving the perceptions of nursing is so important. I believe that in many ways, nurses have never been less valued, at a time when they ought to be valued more than ever before.
We live in a time when patients coming into hospital often have incurable diseases. Patients bring with them a tangled mixture of mental, emotional and physical complications. They may have poverty or social care issues, or a loved one at home living with dementia or other long term illness, who they care for. This mixture of illness and circumstance cannot be fully addressed by the traditional medical model we have always used. It is excellent nursing care that is required to fully meet such complex needs.
I believe that we need to change the perceptions of nursing and encourage nurses to shout out about the amazing and important work they do, day in, day out. The work, like the event led by Professor Jane Cummings to change the perceptions of nursing is really important, and the current workforce campaign ‘We are the NHS’ is crucial in highlighting the varied roles of nurses and midwives, particularly to children who might be thinking about careers as they are growing up.
It’s important for all nursing, midwifery and care staff to shout about how vital a job nursing is, and how difficult it is too! Collectively we can help improve the perceptions of nursing and encourage more people, especially the young, to take up nursing as a profession. Only nurses, who are doing the job, can really tell the story of what nursing is like and give a balanced perception of nursing today. We need to tell our own stories, from the inside. Nurses’ voices are lacking in the media and in society. We must have nurses’ and midwives’ voices.
Often we hear negative stories in the media, but rarely hear about the excellent nursing care that takes place up and down the country, every day. We need to balance out negative stories in the public domain and the perceptions these create about nursing. This is a job for all of us, not just nurses, but also doctors, health and care staff, patients and the public, to start to talk about the value of care, compassion and kindness alongside the expertise and skill that nurses have.
We also need to start explaining in more detail about what nurses and midwives are doing.
For example, when a nurse or midwife holds a patient’s hand, it may look like a simple act of kindness, however, at the same time the nurse is assessing heart rate, skin temperature, hydration, and a whole host of health indicators; they are looking after a patient’s emotional health, thinking about discharge planning and the needs the patient currently has and will have on discharge, assessing social needs and metal and psychological health, delivering family centred care and recognising that people are complicated puzzles and illness is a small piece of a patient’s life.
Together as a profession nurses and midwives can change the perceptions of nursing and instil pride and confidence to move forward, lead change and add value wherever they work.
I support the perceptions of nursing campaign entirely and I am delighted to see the programme move from strength to strength.