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Fair treatment ?

Three weeks ago Stephen Trowbridge's letter urging potential engineers to take up nursing provoked a strong response. The debate continues.

I fear that in the controversy caused by Stephen Trowbridge's comments his main point has been ignored. I hope to remedy this by using a different comparison.

A graduate engineer after 4-5 years of study (probably incurring significant debt in the process) will earn a starting salary of between £12,000 and £14,000. Other graduates entering careers with less rigorous or even no professional training requirements can commonly achieve a starting salary of up to £20,000. To put things in perspective, this is the worth assigned to a newly Chartered civil engineer after around five years of additional training.

Such comparisons are frequently made, yet seem to have little impact within these pages. It is ironic that in a journal representative of our industry the shortfalls of the nursing profession have been given more coverage than the concerns of graduate engineers.

Gary Farquhar (G), Gary@geneer.freeserve.co.uk

The daily responsibility of saving peoples lives and ensuring patients' dignity during their illness is far more onerous a responsibility than any that I can imagine a civil engineer may achieve. If an engineer makes a mistake there are systems in place to ensure these are detected and corrected before any harm is done. You would be surprised how quickly you can die with the wrong medical attention or a minor error in calculating the dosage of prescribed drugs.

R Macoy (AM), 95 Manor Road, Crosby, Liverpool L23 7US

Nurses, by individual and collective action, have raised the status of their profession and responded to market conditions. Engineers have not. There are however strong parallels between the two groups. Nursing numbers have been in decline as poor pay and conditions have stimulated some of the better individuals to leave the profession. Others, good technically and managerially, have seen that the only way to get promotion is to leave the technical, front line work that attracted them in the first place and go to 'management' positions. In addition, the more aggressive private sector was buying the best people while the adventurous individuals turned to lucrative contracts abroad.

Many left behind in the sector show low commitment and talent. Nurses have always had public sympathy, their professional bodies have embellished

that and government agencies, as the principle employers, have had to react (eventually) to the decline in the profession. The decline may even be arrested in the near future. Nurses have won greater recognition in a sector where health spending is viewed as finite and any increased spending on nurses is thus deemed to be taking money away from helping sick people.

The engineers' reaction is apparently is to be envious of their success. Hardly likely to endear you to the general public who fund most of your activity. It is interesting that Stephen Trowbridge's reference point is nursing and not the accounting, legal and management consulting professions. Perhaps he has now accepted that they have out manoeuvred you in generating status, industry growth and levels of pay.

Neal Hattersley, 11 Salamander Quay, Kingston KT1 4JB

My partner and I are at similar levels in each profession respectively. After four years training and 11 years experience I am now earning £23,000 (including London allowances), on an equivalent grade to ward sister. My partner earns £26,000 as a section engineer, qualifying with an HND 11 years ago.

Suzanne Ovenden, 9 Chestnut Grove, London W5 4JT

Nurses have been underpaid and undervalued since before civil engineering became a profession. The fact that a small number of them have now been promised a good wage has no relevance to the struggle that engineers are having to obtain the same thing.

Dr AJ Dougall, 27 Laurel Avenue, Kirkintilloch, Glasgow G66 4RT

Stephen Trowbridge declares that nurses have '...lots of paid training open to them'. In my experience it is notoriously hard to gain a place on a course and payment often comes out of the nurse's own pocket. The distances travelled to attend courses are often great for those who don't work or live near the major centres of education.

Kate Ward, kate@hwa-cce.com

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