A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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Information about the causes for girl’s becoming nurses and the influences which lead girls to take up nursing is clearly of importance in a recruiting campaign. An attempt was made to investigate the influences which led the student nurses interviewed to enter the profession and their motives for doing so, and since they had all become nurses within the last four years their answers may be expected to throw some light on this problem.

Informants were asked first: “Why did you take up nursing?” and then: “Was there anything in particular which made you finally decide to do so?” It was found that similar types of answer were given to the two questions. The nurses could not clearly distinguish between their primary motives and the more immediate stimuli which prompted them to make the decision. Thus some gave different answers to the two questions, others gave more than one answer to the first or to the second, and some answered the second question in the same way as they had answered the first.

The two questions have, therefore, been considered together and in Table 7 below, the percentages of nurses giving different answers are shown. The percentages, of course, add to more than 100 as more than one reason could be given by each nurse. The 490 nurses gave altogether 900 reasons.

It is in fact possible to distinguish to some extent between answers which satisfy the first question and the second, that is to say between underlying “reasons” and immediate influences resulting in the decision to become a nurse, and this distinction has been made under the headings “Motives” and “Stimuli” in the table below.

Table 7
Motives % Student Nurses
Always wanted to. Have always been interested. Grew up with the idea 50
Wish to relieve suffering, help humanity, do something worthwhile 20
Nursing is a career 18
Preferred nursing to other possible jobs. Could not do what I wanted and nursing was second best 10
Fond of children. Want to nurse children 4
Nursing is a preparation for other careers 2
Influence of the war. Being “called up” 26
Influence of relatives and friends in the profession 23
Influence of sickness at home, or visits to hospital 13
Influence of V. A. D. and War Nursing Services 11
Influence of school 3
Miscellaneous answers 6
Sample: 490

As many as half the nurses said they had always wanted to nurse or had always had an interest in nursing. Thus for at least half those who enter the profession the decision to become a nurse results from a longstanding wish to do so. In the previous inquiry into the attitudes of working women and schoolgirls towards nursing, it was found that 29% of working women and 36% of secondary schoolgirls said that they had at some time of their lives wished to take up nursing. Of the working women who wished to do so, some 60% had been unable to for practical reasons and a smaller proportion had changed their minds about wanting to. It is clear from these results that nursing is a profession with a particular sort of appeal to some people. The majority of young women who begin to earn their living become factory workers, shop - assistants, clerks and typists. If they were asked why they had taken up these jobs it is perhaps doubtful that many of them would say it had always been their ambition to do that sort of work. It would be of interest to mate an inquiry and compare the answers with those given by nurses.

Some other reasons however, for taking up nursing are also of considerable importance. One fifth of the nurses were inspired by the idea of helping humanity, relieving suffering and doing something “really worthwhile”. It is interesting to compare this result with the answers of working women and school- girls to a question - “Considering nursing as a career, what do you think are the main advantages and attractions?”. The type of answer most frequently given was that nursing was “a worthwhile job”, “useful to the community” and that “it is good to be of service”.

It seems from these results that it would be worthwhile to stress this point of view about nursing in publicity calling for more recruits.

Nearly as many gave the answer “Nursing is a career” and this point of view has been emphasised in recent publicity. A “career” is regarded as something more than a mere job, and some examples of answers classified in this way are given below:

“It’s a profession for a life - time. I thought it would be a good career”

“I knew it was a career. It was more than merely a job like I was in before”

“Nursing will leave me with a definite profession after the war”

“I saw many possibilities of interesting and absorbing work after training”

Only 10% of the nurses said they had entered the profession for the rather negative reason that it was better than other jobs they had thought of, or a second choice when it was not possible for them to do the job they most wished to.

Of the immediate factors influencing the student nurses in their decision, the war., including “being called up”, is of great importance and is mentioned by 26%, and a further 11% mentioned the influence of the V. A. D. and War Nursing Services. Girls who might, in the ordinary course of events, have gone into non - essential “peace - time” occupations were drawn into nursing by the special need of the moment. Although the shortage of nurses is not specially a wartime difficulty, that there is a need for nurses is perhaps more obvious in war than in peace and the choice of other occupations is limited in war - time.

Some examples of answers in this group are:

“Other jobs never satisfied me. The war gave me the opportunity I needed. The war - need helped me to persuade my family”

“Because of the war. I felt I wanted to help”

“All the girls in my office were volunteering for something. I thought I ought to as well”

“The war influenced me. I thought girls would be called up and that nursing would suit me better than anything else”

“I would have had to go in for something, and didn’t want munitions. I wanted to do this (nursing) years ago, but mother and dad were against it”

It will be seen from these answers that the two attitudes “wanting to help in the war” and “I would have had to do something because of call - up” cannot be absolutely separated from one another. Girls who had an inclination for nursing were given an opportunity by the war. In peace time it might have been rather a drastic step to give up another job and become a nurse, perhaps in the face of parental opposition. But in wartime such drastic changes are forced on many people, and so wartime conditions, as it were, sanctioned the decision.

Almost as important is the influence of relatives and friends who had themselves become nurses and helped to persuade others to do the same thing.

13% said that contact with sickness at home or visiting friends and relatives who were in hospital had led them to the decision to take up nursing.

The influence of school teachers and others at school is of relatively little importance. In the previous inquiry some comments based on open interviews with thirty headmistresses of secondary schools were made. It appeared from these interviews that although there was little actual discouragement on the part of headmistresses, there was not much positive encouragement of pupils to enter the nursing profession.

The absence of any reference to organised forms of publicity in the answers given above may be noted. In fact, eight of the nurses interviewed mentioned advertisements, films etc. These form 2% of the sample only and their answers are included in the ‘‘miscellaneous” category. The fact that such forms of publicity were not mentioned however, does not suggest that they are not of value. The question asked what it was that made nurses finally decide to take up nursing, and the influence of advertisements, although it might be considerable, could not be expected to be the deciding factor in very many cases.

Analyses of the answers made by nurses in different groups show only small differences. The numbers of nurses interviewed in some groups however, are small and. it is possible that statistically significant differences might have been found had the sample been larger. There cannot however, be any very marked differences.

A slightly higher proportion of nurses aged under 21 than of those aged 21 and over mentioned the influence of friends and relatives in the nursing profession. 29% of the younger nurses and 19% of the older ones gave this answer, the standard error of the difference between these two percentages being 4%, less than half the difference observed, which is, therefore, significant.

14% of older nurses and 6% of younger nurses mentioned the V. A. D. and War Nursing Services, the standard error of the difference being 3%.

Of nurses with secondary and high school education, 5% mentioned love of children as against 1% of those with elementary education giving this answer. (S. E. of difference = 1.5%).

Other analyses, by stage of training, voluntary and municipal hospitals and father’s occupation (in two groups, manual workers and others) showed no differences

The conclusion that may be drawn from this is that motives for becoming a nurse and influences leading to the decision vary very little amongst girls belonging to different groups in the population who have actually become nurses.


A War Job or a Career?

Nurses were asked “Did you take up nursing as a war job only, or as a career?” Interviewers were told to make it clear that this question referred to the nurses’ attitude when she decided to become a nurse, and not to her present attitude which might be different.

Table 8
% Student Nurses
Took up nursing as a career 92
Took up nursing as a war job only 5
Undecided 2
Sample: 490

Thus, although 26% of nurses mentioned that the war had influenced them in making their decision to become a nurse, only 5% had taken it up thinking of it mainly as a war job. The great majority of student nurses had intended to make nursing their career.

Analyses of the answers given by nurses in different groups show no statistically significant differences.

Those who had taken up nursing as a war job (27 of the nurses) were asked the reason for this. The answers given are various, but nearly half had regarded it as a war job only because they intended to get married or go back to their peace time occupations afterwards.

These nurses, and those who were undecided, were also asked whether they had changed their minds since becoming a nurse. Of the 39 nurses asked this question (27 taking nursing up as a war job and 12 undecided), 17 had decided to make nursing their career. The reasons given for this were that they had found nursing more interesting and congenial work than they had expected.


Doubts and Difficulties

It is not perhaps as easy for women to become nurses as to take up some other occupations. Becoming a nurse involves making considerable changes in one’s life such as living away from home and being separated from one’s family group. Many of the duties of a nurse are such that they require a particular sort of temperament to be able to perform them without too much strain, and community life is not to the taste of everyone.

29% of the working women interviewed in the previous inquiry had at one time of their lives thought they would like to take up nursing, but these had been unsuccessful in doing so.

It was thought relevant in the present inquiry to ask nurses whether, when making the decision to take up nursing, they had had any doubts in their minds or practical difficulties to overcome.

68% of the nurses interviewed said they had had some doubts or difficulties There are no statistically significant difference in the proportions of different groups who had experienced them. The proportions mentioning different sorts of difficulties are shown in Table 9 below.

Table 9
Practical difficulties % Student Nurses
Opposition from parents on grounds of hard work, poor pay, leaving home etc. 21
Economic difficulties, salary not enough, fees to pay 4
Doubts of Ability
To stand hard work, long hours, discipline etc. 15
To study for exams., study when tired 11
To do the work, take responsibility 9
To stand physical strain (health grounds) 16
Doubts about liking
The work and the job 7
Leaving home 8
Fear of operations, blood etc. 5
Miscellaneous difficulties 5
No doubts or difficulties 31
Sample: 490

(Percentages add to more than 100 because more than one answer could be given)

Parental opposition is the most frequently mentioned difficulty. This varies very much in its strength. In some cases it amounts only to mild doubts. In a few other cases parents showed active opposition and made things as difficult as possible. Some examples of answers in this group are:

“My parents didn’t think I was strong enough. They thought I was doing it because my two sisters are nurses”

“Father was against it. He said I wouldn’t like to see all the different things, and thought the hours were too long”

“Daddy didn’t see why I should be a nurse when I had taken up fashion drawing. He gave me no allowance for three months thinking that would choke me off nursing”

A supplementary sample of mothers interviewed in the previous inquiry showed that their attitudes to nursing were certainly no less favourable than that of working women aged under 35. Of those with daughters wishing to nurse, more than half said that they would not stand in the way. However, there were some doubts. It seems that mothers can show a favourable attitude towards nursing as a profession, but still not be very keen on their own daughters taking it up.

Student nurses were not asked to say from which parent the objections came. Most of them did not specify which. There is no statistically significant difference in the proportions who mentioned mothers and fathers.

Amongst the working women interviewed before who had wished to take up nursing, economic difficulties were of most importance. 26% of those who had wished to nurse mentioned such difficulties and a further 15% said they were unable to leave home for various reasons. Only 4% of the nurses mention such difficulties and it would seem, therefore, that this sort of difficulty is the least likely to be overcome. It has been shown that the student nurses came largely from the middle economic and social groups. Only 2% of the working woman who wished to become nurses said that their parents had prevented them.

It seems, therefore, that although opposition from parents is considerable it is not often so great a difficulty as to prevent girls who want to nurse from doing so. Economic circumstances on the other hand form a serious factor in preventing girls from becoming nurses. The latter cannot be altered by persuasion.

Some of the nurses had doubts as to their ability to do the job, or as to whether they should like it. Of the working women interviewed in the previous inquiry who wished to nurse, about 15% thought they would not like the job on finding out more about it and, therefore, changed their minds.

8% of nurses had doubts about leaving home and 15% of the working women who wished to nurse said they were unable to because they could not leave home.

Analyses of the answers made to this question by different groups of nurses show no statistically significant difference with one possible exception. Of those with elementary education, 16% were anxious about studying for exams. as against 9% of those with secondary or high school education. The standard error of the difference between these two results is 3.5% and it is unlikely, therefore, to be due to chance. Also it would be reasonable to expect such a difference. However, it is only a small one.

In all other respects the results for different groups are very similar to one another.

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