I have already met many qualified and student nurses who are of the opinion that we (learning disabilities nurses) are not “real nurses”.
I do understand why they may have come to this conclusion - we don’t often work in hospital settings, we rarely wear uniform and we study different modules at university.
My cohort and I are about to start the first placement of our second year. For many learning disabilities students, this has been met with some anxiety, as we will be attending placements at A&E and in mental health environments.
Both exciting and daunting.
How will we cope when faced with working as part of a team in the A&E department? I know that some of my classmates are concerned that they are less prepared for this placement than our adult-trained counterparts. But, despite their nerves, they’re ready to face the challenge and take what they can from this learning experience. This is where they’ll get to be involved in “real nurse” tasks, nurse patients with physical health problems and maybe even get to do some dressings.
My placement is going to be at a small hospital that provides nursing care for elderly people with dementia. This is of particular interest to me as a high proportion of people with learning disabilities also have mental health problems, including dementia.
I’m confident that our existing knowledge and the basic nursing skills and generic competencies we learnt in first year will stand us in good stead in our upcoming placements.
Last year, I had a 6 week placement on a general hospital ward. I was paired with some excellent nurses who taught me a lot. I left the placement feeling confident and competent as a student nurse.
One of the more memorable moments from that placement was when the daughter of an elderly patient thanked me for being so caring towards her mother. She said that her mother would always refer to me as the “little Italian girl” (for the record, I am not Italian and far from little), and said that it was encouraging that I had time to assist her to bath instead of strip-wash, and to use the toilet as opposed to the commode. Her daughter felt that simply making time and having a caring and compassionate approach were more important qualities than being able to perform complex tasks.
As learning disabilities nurses, we support people to meet their health needs in less obvious ways, but the principles of providing good care remain the same. Learning disability nursing relies heavily on communication; understanding people’s needs and advocating on their behalf.
As student nurses from any branch, I feel it is important to recognise that not all patients have a condition or illness that is visible to the eye. Sometimes being a nurse is about taking blood pressure and putting on bandages etc, but not always. Sometimes, it’s about looking deeper and seeing beyond the obvious. Caring for people’s minds and souls, as well as their arms and legs. If, as a nursing community, we can provide high levels of care to our learning disability and mental health patients, who can often be the most vulnerable people in society, then the care we provide for general patients should be second to none.
All branches of nurses are “real nurses”, we just work in different ways to achieve the same common goal.
Claire Harries is the learning disabilities branch student editor at Student NT