A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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It was thought that student nurses’ ideas about how to draw in more recruits to the nursing profession might be of some value.

Following on the question dealt with in the last section “What do you think of the recent changes in nursing conditions?” nurses were asked “Do you think there are any other changes in nurses’ working or living conditions which might attract more recruits to nursing?” Replies were as follows:

Table 18
Suggested changes in: % Student Nurses
1.Working conditions:
Shorter hours. Put Rushcliffe hours in operation. More free time. Adjust off-duty arrangements 32
No lectures in free time. Put block system of lectures in operation. More time to Study 13
Provide out-door uniform. Abolish black stockings. More attractive uniform, coupon free uniform etc. 13
Further increase in pay 9
Less cleaning. Have more domestic staff 2
2. Living conditions:
Make nurses’ homes more comfortable.
Have kitchen to use. Separate bedrooms.
Allow visitors. Home apart from hospital. Better food 21
Relax discipline. More freedom, less restrictions 19
More recreational facilities. Nurses’ clubs, canteen etc. 16
Allow nurses to live out, in digs, etc. 9
Miscellaneous suggestions 12
Conditions satisfactory as they are, no changes needed 13
Can’t think of any changes 6
Sample: 490

Nurses were on the whole, very ready to answer this question and many of them made more than one suggestion. It is rather doubtful that all of them had recruiting purposes firmly in mind as some of the changes suggested would require more than ordinary knowledge of nursing conditions for their relevance to be appreciated by those outside the profession. It is quite clear, however, that in the opinion of most of these student nurses, more recruits would be drawn to the profession if living and working conditions were made more attractive.

Shorter working hours and better arrangements for off-duty time is the point most frequently mentioned. When the recommendations of the Rushcliffe Report are put into practice everywhere this will go far to meet this demand. Most of the suggestions included in this category are moderate ones. The 48 hour week and shifts of eight hours are mentioned frequently. Adequate notice of off-duty times is another point made by many.

It should be noted again here that the long working hours were mentioned more frequently by the working women and schoolgirls as a disadvantage of the career than was any other point. Student nurses and “potential recruits” are thus in agreement about working hours. This may perhaps be described as a “vicious circle” since the Rushcliffe hours cannot be put into operation everywhere without a considerable increase in the number of recruits. The results do suggest strongly that if some means of breaking this circle could be found an improvement in recruiting might be expected. It might perhaps be pointed out in publicity that nurses’ hours will be decreased as soon as enough recruits come forward.

13% suggest that special time should be set apart for lectures and that nurses should be allowed more of their working time for studying.

In giving their reasons for becoming nurses (Section II) none of the nurses mentioned the uniform. However, this is thought to be an important point in recruiting by 13%. Black stockings are objected to by some and the provision of out-door uniforms and more attractive uniforms is recommended. The question of clothing coupons was also raised by some and it was suggested that either the uniform should be coupon free or that extra coupons should be allowed.

A further increase in pay was suggested by 9%.

Amongst the changes suggested in living conditions improved nurses’ homes is of some importance. Student nurses suggested that these should be run more on, the lines of a hostel, and in some cases that they should be situated away from the hospital and run by a warden who was not herself a nurse. That nurses should have the use of a kitchen, that each nurse should have her own bedroom, and that there should be more facility for entertaining friends, were particular points made. Such improvements would, by creating conditions more similar to those of living at home, or in one’s own home, perhaps reduce the demand for “living out”. The latter was suggested by 9% of the nurses.

16% said that more recreational facilities should be provided. Some suggested that a club or canteen in town, similar to those provided for the Forces, would help. Others were in favour of more organised social life in hospital. That outside interests should be encouraged to prevent a narrow “hospital outlook” was suggested by others.

Such remarks as “Relax discipline”, “Allow nurses more freedom”, “Have less restrictions”, put in a general form some of the more specific suggestions with regard to living conditions already noted. Points particularly made and classified under this heading were that nurses should be allowed to come in later at night, that there should be more freedom about “lights out”, and that nurses should be allowed to go out after coming off duty at 8 p.m.

It will be remembered that lack of freedom was the most considerable of the disadvantages of the career mentioned by student nurses (Section III), and the relaxation of restrictions is thought by many to be of importance in connection with recruiting.

13% of the nurses did not think any changes could be made which would help in recruiting. These thought that conditions were satisfactory at present. Some put forward the view that if nursing was made too attractive the wrong type of recruit might be drawn in. A further 6% said they could not think of any changes at the moment.

There are only small differences in the proportions of nurses in different groups giving the various answers. Nurses whose fathers were in manual occupations showed a relatively low proportion suggesting that there should be less restrictions. 8% of this group made this answer as against 22% of nurses whose fathers were in non-manual occupations. (S.E of difference = 4%).

Of first year trainees, 13% and of nurses at later stages of their training 24%, suggested improved nurses’ homes. S.E of difference = 4%).

Apart from these no statistically signifient differences are shown.

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Problems of those outside the profession

This subject was dealt with more fully in the previous inquiry, but it was thought that some useful supplementary information could be obtained by questioning nurses about their conversations with girls outside the profession.

It will be remembered (Section II) that 23% of the nurses interviewed had been influenced in their decisions to become nurses by friends or relatives who were in the profession. It would seem from this that girls who are acquainted with nurses are more likely to become nurses themselves than are other people. Their views are, therefore, of particular interest.

Nurses were asked “When you talk to girls doing other jobs what questions about nursing do they ask you mostly?

Table 19

Questions asked by nurses’ friends

% Student Nurses
About the work generally. What nurses do 31
About off-duty time and holidays 31
About working hours and how often on night duty 30
About conditions in the nurses’ home 30
What is the pay? 25
Is it hard work? Is it as hard as people think? 18
Do you like nursing? Why did you take it up? 18
How do you feel about operations, people dying, horrid sights, etc.? 17
Are the exams difficult? Is studying hard? 11
About the patients, their complaints, etc. 8
Miscellaneous questions 7
No questions mentioned 9
Sample: 490

Questions “about the work generally” deal with a variety of subjects. What are conditions in hospital like? How much responsibility do nurses take? Do they have a. lot of dirty work to do? How much nursing is done in the first year and how much domestic work?

The second group includes such questions as: What time do nurses have to get in at nights? Do they get weekends off? How much free time is there in the evening? What about holidays? These were classified separately from questions, specially about working hours: Are nurses’ working hours as long as people say they are? What times do nurses get up and go to bed? How long are they on night duty, and how often?

Some questions about conditions in the nurses’ home are: Do nurses have their own bedrooms? Is the food good or bad? Is there a lot of discipline? What sort? Is there any social life in the nurses’ home? Are there any recreations? What are the other nurses, sisters, matron like?

Included with “Is the work as hard as people think?” are such questions as “But you get very tired?” “Do you find you can stand up to it alright?”

The other typos of questions are sufficiently explained in the table.

Some of the questions described could be answered by means of general publicity. Although conditions vary very much from one hospital to another a description of what are the must usual conditions in hospitals might serve some purpose in dispelling doubts of possible recruits to the profession. The questions suggest that information about the background of a nurses’ job and life are needed. Although factual information about working hours and pay is much wanted, there are many questions which cannot be answered by giving figures, and perhaps a description of a nurses’ day from when she gets up in the morning to when she goes to bed at night, outline the different jobs that she has to do in the course of the day, would help to satisfy the desire for information.

Nurses were further asked what disadvantages and drawbacks of nursing were mentioned by their friends in conversation. The answers to this question bring out the same points as those mentioned by working women and secondary schoolgirls. The most frequently mentioned disadvantage is long working hours and lack of leisure time compared with other jobs. Next in importance comes “bad pay compared with other jobs”.

In reporting the views of their friends, nurses laid rather more stress on objections to restrictions than might be expected from the proportions of working women and schoolgirls mentioning this.

Less frequently mentioned disadvantages were the hard work and hard life, not being able to live at home, unpleasant sights, smells, etc.

Some nurses said their friends mentioned the difficulty of studying for exams, as a disadvantage. This was not mentioned by the working women or schoolgirls, but some of these did say that the training was long and difficult.

It is interesting that in both sets of results the two main disadvantages pointed out are the same, first the long hours and second the relatively poor pay.

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Attitudes to Publicity Campaign

Student nurses were asked whether they had noticed recent publicity appealing for recruits to nursing. Four publicity media were specified, posters, advertisements in newspapers and magazines, wireless talks and exhibitions, and opinions were asked for about each of them.

The proportion of nurses who had come across these different types of publicity were as follows:

Table 20

Publicity noticed by student nurses

Noticed: % Student Nurses
Posters 89
Advertisements in newspapers or magazines 79
Radio talks 29
Exhibitions 16
Sample: 490

The percentages of nurses who had seen posters and of the whole sample expressing different opinions about the posters are given in Table 21 below.

Table 21

Student nurses' opinions of nursing posters

% those who had seen posters % whole sample
Very good. Attractive, Shows what nurses are doing. Presents vivid picture and other definitely favourable replies 15 30 13 26
Quite good. Better lately. They might do some good, and other moderately favourable replies 15 13
Give a wrong impression. Too glamorous. Show only the easy and pleasant jobs. Glorify small things. Sentimental. Don't show a true picture of the career 47 63 42 56
Ridiculous, silly, feeble, makes you laugh 10 9
Miscellaneous critical replies 6 5
Other miscellaneous comments 5 4
No opinion 2 2
Had not seen posters - 11
Sample: 434 490

63% of-the nurses who had seen posters and 56% of the whole sample were critical of the nursing posters. The main objection was that the posters presented to the public a somewhat rosy picture of. a nurse’s job which according to these nurses was not in line with their experience. Some examples of such answers are given below:

“I don’t think much of them. Nurses just looking beautiful and holding a thermometer. It’s so unreal”

“All glamour and no practical facts. Just a beautiful nurse”

“One doesn’t get such nice young patients really. It gives the wrong impression. One gets doddering old men - not romance with a nice young soldier”

“I don’t like it at all. (Nurse with thermometer). It always annoys me. It gives you the wrong idea about nursing”

“They always paint the nursing profession much brighter than it is”

“The nurse in the fields with the soldiers gives the impression that nursing is a holiday, and all we have to do is hold the patient’s hand”

“It won’t do any good. They make out nurses are so glamorous”

Similar types of answer were made about newspaper and magazine advertisements but the proportions are somewhat different.

Table 22

Student nurses’ opinions of newspaper advertisements calling for recruits

% those who had seen advertisements % whole sample
Very good. Attractive. Shows what nurses are doing and other definitely favourable replies 13 10
Quite good. All right. Moderately favourable 31 24
Give a wrong impression. Not clear about hard work. Not a true picture etc. 29 23
Ridiculous. Exaggerated, etc. 12 9
Other miscellaneous answers 9 8
No opinion 3 2
Had not seen advertisements - 21
Sample: 385 490

A rather higher proportion give favourable replies about the newspaper advertisements than about the posters. 41% of those .who had seen advertisements, 32% of the whole sample, were critical, and 44% of those who had seen then and 34% of the sample, on the whole approved.

The criticisms offered were similar to those about the posters, of which some examples have been given.

Comments on radio talks centered round the “Little Nurse” talk which gave rise to criticisms in the press.

Table 23

Student nurses’ opinions of radio appealing for volunteers

% those who had heard a talk % whole sample
“Little Nurse” talk good, genuine, etc. 33 9
“Little Nurse” talk nonsense, ridiculous, tripe, piffle, sentimental 41 12
Talks usually awful. Didn’t think much of then. Should give hard side as well as pleasant 16 4
Miscellaneous comments 9 2
No opinion 2 1
Had not heard a talk - 71
Sample: 140 490

Of the nurses who had heard a radio talk, more were critical than favourable. Rather more of those who commented specifically on the “Little Nurse” talk criticised it than praised it. A high proportion of nurses had not heard any radio talks.

Only 79 (61%) of the nurses had been to exhibitions. The majority of these made favourable comments.


Suggestions for publicity

The results given above show that a high proportion of student nurses are critical of present publicity appealing for recruits. When asked for suggestions as to what should be the content of ouch publicity the nurses showed that they had many ideas about this. They were asked "What do you think people should be told about nursing in a recruitment campaign?”

Table 24

Student nurses’ suggestions for publicity

% Student Nurses
The harder side of the work should be shown. There should be less glamour, more realism 35
Duties of a trainee should be described, what sort of work they have to do in first year and after 26
Publicity should say nursing is a worthwhile job, useful, responsible, interesting, very necessary 24
Factual information about hours, pay, off-duty, discipline and other conditions 19
Nursing is a career. Prospects for a trained nurse, stress good status of nurses 18
Stress such advantages as community life, meeting people, broadening effect on mind 17
State qualities needed in a good nurse, patience, fitness, humour, etc. 8
There should be lectures and exhibitions about various methods of treating diseases and surgical work 8
Miscellaneous suggestions 7
Don’t believe in recruiting campaigns. People who want to nurse will do so without persuasion 2
Cannot think of any suggestions 5
Sample: 490

The adoption of nurses’ ideas about what publicity should say would mean a considerable reversal of present publicity policy. It may be argued that nurses cannot be expected to know anything about advertising and that, therefore, their suggestions would be of little value. However, they are the people who have actually done what publicity is now asking girls to do, and for this reason their ideas may be of some value.

It is perhaps -an unusual point of view that in order to persuade people to do anything you should stress the more difficult side of what is to be done rather than the easy and pleasant aspects. 35% of the nurses make the point that the more difficult side of the job should be described. It was shown in the previous inquiry that the opinion that a nurse's life and work is “hard” is held widely amongst women outside the profession, and it is possible that publicity which stresses mainly the easy and pleasant side of the job may appear unrealistic. In the view of the nurses the type of person who finds satisfaction in doing difficult things is the type best suited to nursing, and they think that this should be taken into account in advertising. Their main criticism of present publicity is that it is too “glamorous”.

26% said that the duties of a student nurse should be described in detail, and 19% said that more factual information about nurses' working conditions, the pay, the hours, off-duty times, discipline and so on should be given. This links up with the remarks made earlier about the problems of nurses’ friends outside the profession. (See Table 19). Although all the duties of a trainee might not be good “advertising points” in the ordinary meaning of the phrase, yet many girls may be dissuaded from taking up nursing by the fear of making a leap in the dark and letting themselves in for more than they feel their courage can cope with. A clear and frank description of what is expected of student nurses would put possible recruits on a different level, so that knowing the facts they could consider them and make an intelligent decision. It is not suggested that girls who have got as far as inquiring about nursing prior to deciding whether they wish to nurse are not given a clear picture of what to expect, but the lack of such information for the general public may mean that many never get so far.

24% say that publicity should stress that nursing is a “worthwhile” job, and useful to the community. It was pointed out previously that this was the advantage of nursing most frequently mentioned by working women and secondary schoolgirls as well as by student nurses

Nurses also mentioned community life as an advantage, and Table 24 shows that 17% of them suggested that this aspect might be used in publicity. It was shown in discussing the advantages mentioned that those outside the profession are not aware of this, and that publicity might usefully bring it to their notice.

18% of nurses said that nursing should be represented to the public, as a career, that the variety of possibilities open to trained nurses should be pointed out and the good status of nurses stressed.

Another idea put forward by a smaller proportion is that advertisements should state the particular qualities needed by nurses, patience, fitness, etc.

Nurses were asked a further question about recruiting. “How do you think nurses themselves might help in recruitment?” 82% of the nurses thought they could help, and most of them thought the best way was by talking to their friends and acquaintances informally and telling then about the various aspects of the job pointed out in answer to the question just discussed ("What do you think people should be told about nursing in a recruitment campaign?”). Apart from this it was suggested that student nurses should give talks, particularly to these leaving school, and take part in demonstrations, exhibitions, the making of films about nursing, and other similar forms of publicity.

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