RCN president tells of confronting bullies as student nurse

Professor Anne Marie Rafferty told a conference of nursing students that she would not have made it to the position she was in today without an “amazing” university nurse tutor who helped her confront the behaviour.

“I had to confront that bullying behaviour, which was not easy at all”

Anne Marie Rafferty

She explained how her first clinical placement while studying at Edinburgh University in the 1970s was on a long-stay ward caring for “extremely debilitated” patients with enduring neurological complications.

“I was the only student on the ward and there was a real culture of what I experienced as bullying actually,” she told delegates at the National Student Nurse Congress held at St George’s Hospital in South London on Monday.

“I was bullied in that first placement and had it not been for the support and interventions of an amazing nurse tutor…I promise you I wouldn’t be here standing in front of you,” Professor Rafferty said.

“I had to confront that bullying behaviour, which was not easy at all because…I would do anything rather than to face up to conflict,” she said. “But with the right support, you can actually overcome some of these barriers and these difficulties.”

Professor Rafferty, who is also professor of nursing policy at King’s College London, described the experience of being a student nurse as an “odyssey” – with big highs and lows.

She highlighted the importance of ward managers in providing support for both students and staff nurses and called for “appropriate investment” in those roles.

The RCN was putting this message forward to those developing the forthcoming long-term workforce plan for the NHS, Professor Rafferty said.

“It’s very sexy to think about leadership at the top and obviously that needs to be invested in too, but actually, and it’s a very unsexy title: middle management…that is almost the cantilever of quality that makes or breaks the everyday experience for students, for clinicians, and of course for patients, their loved ones and their families,” she told delegates.