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Practice comment

‘We can help our students to learn from each other’

Fiona Cust
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Bringing together student nurses from different branches as part of their education has huge benefits, not only for the students but also for patients, says Fiona Cust

Bringing together student nurses from different branches as part of their education has huge benefits – not only for the students but for our patients.

As a university academic, I primarily teach children’s undergraduate nursing students. Like many other professionals in health and social care, I have been involved in organising interprofessional education (IPE) workshops, lectures and conferences.

IPE is described as occurring “when students from two or more professions learn about, from, and with each other to enable effective collaboration and improve health outcomes” – but it is so much more than that. It brings students and other health professionals together to share ideas, good practice and both positive and negative experiences. It can reduce barriers and preconceptions and provide information about services that are ‘out there’ – services that others may not be aware of but could be of great benefit to their patients.

As a team of children’s nursing and mental health nursing lecturers, we have organised workshops and brought nurses and psychologists together; taught students from a variety of disciplines in groups; delivered conferences for nurses, midwives, health visitors and social workers; and most recently, ran an IPE conference for child and mental health nursing students.

Following our most recent conference, we decided, to actively seek formal feedback from our students. After all, we think IPE is great, that it works well if organised appropriately, and that it is the future of healthcare education, but what about our students? What are their thoughts and views?

This event was primarily organised as many children’s nursing students had discussed the, sadly, ever-increasing number of child admissions following self-harm, suicide attempts and mental health crises. The students described feeling “out of their depth” and “concerned that they would make matters so much worse”, and simply “not knowing what to say or do” when caring for a child or young person with mental health issues.

The conference speakers included service users, child psychologists, nurse specialists from mental health and volunteers from the charity Young Minds.

The feedback was hugely positive, including: “Why isn’t IPE an integral part of our training?”; “Why don’t we do this more often, it obviously works”; “IPE benefits all – and most importantly, patients and clients”; and “It seems to be that we all train and graduate in our own little bubble of, say, mental health nursing, and that’s it, never cross paths with others”. The comments were all in a very similar vein.

IPE is not a new concept, but it does seem to be rather challenging to implement in the theoretical setting. Why? Are we, as academics – and clinicians – a little too precious about our cohorts of child, mental health and adult nurses? Do we feel that these groups should be protected from one another?

The complexities of teaching dynamics in different disciplines can certainly pose a number of challenges but, on a positive note, if we bring our students together then they can learn from each other, share experiences, case studies, positives, negatives – and many other disciplines could be included too. IPE simply requires organisation, active engagement and commitment. It needs to be an integral part of healthcare education. 

Fiona Cust is senior lecturer in children’s nursing, Staffordshire University.

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