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Mark Radcliffe: ‘Supporting students is a vital part of a nurse’s job’

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We had some friends round for a barbecue last week. We thought we would have some sun but we didn’t. Still, looking like an extra from The Perfect Storm, I braved the elements with some damp matches and a vegetable kebab.

I knew I was fighting a losing battle when the sardines I put on the grill were revived by the torrential rain and launched a rescue mission for the tuna before heading off towards the sea.

So I returned to the kitchen in time to hear a friend talking about their new part-time job as a bibliotherapist. I confess that too many years in mental health means every time I hear the word ‘therapist’ my kidneys begin to itch and I have to leave the room. But I was damp and disguised as a trawlerman so I stayed and dripped over people and potato salad. It seems a bibliotherapist listens to people talk about themselves and their needs and then recommends books that might make them happier. Some Virginia Woolf perhaps, or something by an Amish.

‘You’re a bit like a librarian, then,’ I said.

‘A bit,’ she mused, ‘but we don’t have to whisper. And we don’t fine anyone.’

It’s a nice idea but it was telling that when my friend asked her ‘clients’ what they might want they tended to shy away from great novels and instead tended to think in terms of self-help books, which isn’t really what a bibliotherapist is about.

Apparently.

But suggesting books to read or things to wonder about is perhaps a bit vague for these modern times. People don’t want to wonder, invariably we prefer a magic bullet. Something instant and direct to make whatever problems we have go away, and we don’t mind going to see a bibliotherapist or a crystal healer to find them.

I mention this because over the next few weeks thousands of people will begin their nurse training and will quickly learn there are no magic bullets. The work will begin on helping them construct themselves as professionals – teaching them that patience, consistency and an investment in the fundamentals of care underwrites everything they will do as nurses.

It isn’t always easy to convince new and nervous students that there are rarely any quick answers in nursing. There may often be the ‘right thing to do’ but that usually needs doing over a period of time – it’s called coordinated care. When my students start they sometimes seek out the reassurance of knowing the right thing to do in any given situation but it is not always that simple.

Perhaps it can be hard sometimes not to feel jaded but helping students to find their feet and start their journey is still one of the most important things a nurse can do. Hope you get some good ones, and are able to help them on their way.

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