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‘We’re hoping it will help them know more about their bodies’

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Anne Mulligan tells Sydney Tomlinson about her role as a school nurse and how she came up with the idea to create an educational film about puberty

What is your role?

“I’m a specialist community public health nurse (SCPHN) in school nursing at Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber Trust.” 

What does your typical working day look like?

“I don’t really have a typical one. As a school nurse, it’s quite varied and no two days are the same, really.

“Yesterday, for example, I went to a drop-in at lunch time for an hour and a half, comprising three half-hour lunch breaks with three different age groups. I have a private room near the canteen, so I put a board up about a certain topic – right now we’re talking about exam stress because all the year-11s are going to their exams, so we’re discussing that at the moment. 

“In the private room I’ve got a ‘mini clinic’ – I can give out condoms, I can give them emergency contraception and pregnancy tests, as well. Also, I’m there for anything they want to discuss – emotional health or any physical health problems they’re worried about. They can come and talk to me during that period of time. 

“I do a lot of health promotion, as well, like the puberty video. We have puberty lessons in year 5 and conception and birth in year 6. We tend to get lots of questions about pregnancy and how to prevent it, even in year 6, so we are honest with them because they do ask those questions.

“I also help to staff our ‘e-clinics’, where young people can have a live e-chat with their school nurse. We can chat to them about all sorts of emotional problems or answer questions about physical or sexual health, too.” 

What do you enjoy most about your role?

“I think it’s getting out there and seeing the children and the people. I’ve always liked doing health promotion and going into the classroom.

I’m not a teacher and I could never be a teacher, but I do like going in and I think I can engage well with the young people. 

“I like the drop-ins, as well, when I get to talk with the young people and hopefully make a difference with them.” 

What gave you the idea for the puberty education film you helped create for your school?

“To be honest, it was all my colleagues moaning and groaning about the old film we were using. There are no computers or smartphones in the original that was filmed in the 90s. There are posters on the bedroom wall with a young David Beckham and young Jennifer Aniston – the kids we’re showing them to now won’t even recognise them.

We all felt embarrassed to show this film in schools and found ourselves apologising for its age beforehand.

“It started out as a bit of a joke during one of our team meetings, when a group of school nurses said, ‘Why don’t we make our own film?’.

I kept stating about how I’ve got an actress daughter that looks young; she could be the young teenager on the screen, and she’s got a boyfriend who’s an actor, as well. I said it quite a few times and then our manager heard me say it and said, ‘Go on Anne, do it.’

“It was [on] a bit of a shoestring budget, I must admit. We used the school nurses’ children that were in that age group (year 5 or year 6) to make a classroom of children up in the film.

We realised we needed a script so I wrote the script, and directed and produced the film, and I’d never done anything like that before.

“It really snowballed from a few little quips.” 

What impact do you hope the film will have?

“We’re hoping that it will increase their knowledge and they’ll know their bodies better. We’re showing it this year for the first time, so we’re hoping in year 6 next year, they’re more aware of their bodies.

“If they know more about their bodies and how they work, if something goes wrong in the future, they might be more likely to seek help or talk to someone.”

Anne’s top tips

“If somebody was interested in being a school nurse, they ought to be interested in children and people and interested in how to get a message across to them. Nowadays you really have got to think about how to get that message across – especially in the digital age, you’ve got to think out of the box with how to engage these young people. I think the young people that are coming along now that are going into nursing will bring that with them.”

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