In my role as a school governor, and also as a nurse, I’ve come to question whether it's true that the better your academic qualifications are, the better at your job you’ll be. My experiences simply do not support this. I have come across many examples of people who have heads full of knowledge from degrees, masters and beyond, and CVs packed with top notch qualifications, yet they can’t transmit what they know to patients, colleagues, or pupils.
Some of the best teachers I have known, who support pupils to achieve the highest grades, and nurses who are the most innovative and caring, have fairly mediocre qualifications. Committed teachers and nurses, whose academic ability is not the strongest, often have to swot up on their subject, or they have learnt though the sheer passion they have for their subject or speciality, meaning they are better able to explain the core principles of an idea to students/patients/colleagues.
Some teachers and nurses were let down by the educational system and entered their profession from a fairly low base in terms of qualifications. These people are less likely to think they know it all and are more likely to put the most effort into improving their subject knowledge. Coupled with experience over a long people of time these people become quite formidable experts in their field.
The fashionable cult of paper qualifications reached the nursing profession this year, with the Government announcing that from September 2013, all new entrant nursing students will be educated to a degree level. I have mixed feelings about this.
When my mother worked in the NHS, it was the duty of nurses to be hands on, guided by her as the ward sister, and she was universally respected by colleagues, doctors and patients.
She would not tolerate the common phenomenon we see today of nurses gathered round the nurses’ station, deep in conversation with their mates or with their eyes glued to a computer screen. Or paperwork being put before patient care – admittedly something nurses don’t have much choice about. Nurses are becoming more decision makers while the hands-on care is being done by health care assistants. Personally I don't feel comfortable with the way nursing has moved away from the bedside.
Academic qualifications don't necessarily mean you are the best at what you do and with jobs scarce in a struggling economy, employers are increasingly looking beyond academic qualifications when it comes to selection.
I know when I am faced with a pile of CVs, with degrees and masters two-a-penny, I look for evidence of “soft skills”, like compassion, commitment, the ability to work in a team, timekeeping, good communication and people skills, and a range of “wider achievements” to prove applicants employability.
In the real world, compassion and experience are as important as any academic award, and you certainly don't get them from a textbook or the lecture hall.