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'I switched field and now I have found my true calling'

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What do you do if you feel you’ve chosen the wrong branch of nursing?


I am currently a second-year learning disability student on my second placement of the year, and I am enjoying it so much. However, it didn’t start out that way.

I did my first year studying Adult nursing and experiencing a more clinical side of nursing. I was taught to record health observations including taking manual blood pressures and counting a person’s pulse, all invaluable skills while on placement at a surgical ward. Working on the ward was daunting to begin with, everyone rushing to get on with one task or another left me unsure even where to stand.

I had no mentor for the first few weeks and the whole experience was, to be frank, terrifying. In an unfamiliar environment push came to shove and I got on with things and eventually settled in.  

Before this I had my first ever placement with a school nurse. At the time I had my reservations as I wanted to be more involved with practice; however it taught me what it meant to be professional and how to communicate with service users and their families. While with the school nurse I visited a school that specialised in teaching children with learning disabilities; it was here I found my love for a different field.

“I had my reservations as I wanted to be more involved with practice”

Whilst at the school I got various opportunities to talk with the children and at one point got to teach a class about friendships and bullying. These weren’t traditional nursing skills perhaps but I found myself comfortable and at home in this environment and chose to pursue it further; and now I am proud to be a Learning Disability student.

It is safe to say the clinical aspects of nursing in the learning disability field are less prevalent. Instead of blood pressure and pulses learning disability nurses focus more on behaviour and enablement. The differences between the fields are astounding.

“Everywhere I go I get asked why I changed field”

Everywhere I go I get asked why I changed field and I always give the story of the kids at the school. It seems that most people who enter the learning disability field have had personal connections or encounters with people who have a learning disability; it must have been their calling to enter into such a role.

I found it to be a little daunting - with no personal connections or life experience and just a few visits to an inspiring school I questioned my motivation. And then I realised - it’s the desire to help people.

Of course, in every field of nursing you help, but for people with learning disabilities the simplest of things could be life-changing, whether that is reasonable adjustments or easy-read documents.

“For people with learning disabilities, the simplest of things could be life-changing”

It’s clear that whatever field you work in you can be presented with new and scary experiences and sometimes find a love for something you’d never previously thought you would. It could be the joys of working in a different field or exposure to certain client groups, but I feel that there is a surprise out there for every student nurse - it’s just a matter of finding it.

Benjamin Dodd is in his 2nd year studying learning disability nursing at the University of Chester

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