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Exam fever and the target culture

Before reading this blog, I need to make it clear that it is NOT about nurses sitting examinations or the rights and wrongs of degree courses. It is about the consequences of setting rigid targets that, if unrealistic, set individuals up not only to fail those most in need of help, but also to make them fail themselves.

Anyone who is constantly made to feel that they are not good enough, soon begins to believe it it true. This is highly likely to have a hugely negative effect on their motivation to do a good job.

Now, read on...

It's rapidly approaching that time of year again. Across the country, thousands of teenagers are approaching their A level exams, or equivalent. They'll have been given target grades if they hope to go on to university. Failure to get those required for the university of their choice is, for them , a thought to awful to contemplate. For, whilst some universities are prepared to be a little flexible, many others take a more ruthless approach. Quite simply, if you don't get the right grades in the right subjects, you can't go.

As those pupils start their revision, most will become increasingly tense as the exam dates approach. Parents, mindful of the situation, will learn to tread carefully as the pressure mounts up. For those eager to do well, there are likely to be moments when they 'snap' at those they care about the most. For the most part, the bad moods, the inpatience when things don't go according to plan, the moments of intense stress when the printer fails to print or the internet fails, will all impact on their loved ones. Whilst they will try not to take out their frustrations on their friends, they will find it easier to lash out at their close family. Those people they love more than anyone else in the world.

For those of us who have been there more than once, both for ourselves when we were that age, or because we have older children who have been through it before, it can be a very difficult time. We all long for July when it's all over.

And the reason those young people are so tense and so curt with those they love the most is because they feel the pressure of targets, especially those that may seem hopelessly unrealistic. They feel that their whole life is being judged by them. It doesn't seem to matter how much expertise they may have in other areas. They may have filled their 'personal statements' with all kinds of achievements in music, sport etc. They may have taken part in many charity based projects or given many tangible examples of how much they care about those less fortunate than themselves. The cold fact remains that if the target for examination grades isn't met, all the other things they have done, in many cases those things that define them as great, capable human beings, could all count for nothing.

And therein lies the analogy with the nurse. That nurse may have come into the profession because they are deeply compassionate, deeply caring in all areas of their life. But if they don't meet those Government targets once they are inside a hospital Trust, they will be seen to have failed. Worse, they will be asked to compromise their most relevant skills skills simply in an attempt to meet those targets. Patients and relatives may criticise them for cutting corners, being curt, or generally not doing her job well enough. And that will not unreasonable if a patient suffers as a result. But, the question to ask is... who is responsible for those failures? There are unquestionably times when it is not the nurse but the organisation that put those targets in place without any real thought as to how they might impact on the whole picture.


Jill Fraser

Jill Fraser

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