From the start of my course, if I had collected one pound coin for every time I had heard the words ‘collaboration’ or ‘inter-professional’ then I would certainly not be relying on my NHS student bursary or student loan whilst at university to fund me.
I have written an essay about collaboration with other healthcare professionals and taken part in an inter-professional learning workshop which my university set up for all first-year healthcare students.
I certainly appreciate the importance of recognising the roles of others as key to working alongside such professionals; however, I can’t help but feel as if I know more about the role and client groups of a social worker, or occupational therapist, than I do a children’s nurse, or learning disability nurse. I have also found that some students from outside the mental healthbranch of nursing leave a lot to be desired in terms of understanding the client group that a mental health nurse works with or the role that they undertake in all walks of life.
I have a friend who happens to be a fellow student but is training in children’s nursing; it would seem fitting then that I had spent more time prior to my course with people who are mentally ill than those under the age of 18, and she more time with children and infants than anyone who had required the services of a mental health nurse. Being the youngest in my family, I have genuinely only ever come into contact with children as I walk through the ‘kids department’ in my local Matalan store. This is just one of the reasons why I believe student nurses should undertake placement in other areas of nursing.
During one placement I went along with a healthcare assistant from the ward I was working on to assist a patient in returning from the medical ward - where they had been given treatment for a leg condition - back to the organic assessment ward where they had originally been admitted to hospital. I found myself dumbstruck at how busy the staff were and at the sheer number of patients on just one ward. Even more shocked were the staff, when we had the patient sat in a wheelchair with their bags of belongings, all ready to leave within five minutes of our arrival.
It was during the time that this patient spent on the medical ward that I really did see a gap between the adult and mental health branches of nursing. On one occasion, phoning the medical ward to see how said patient was getting along, I was informed that some “bizarre behaviour” was being carried out - although I was quickly assured that this was “more our kind of thing”. Indeed, in the mental health branch, bizarre behaviour will, no doubt, present itself on more than one occasion; I was simply unaware that it was exclusively “our thing”.
This does not go to say, however, that if I was to embark upon a shift amongst adult nurses, I would most certainly be well and truly exhausted by the time I had finished. I found it difficult enough to dash about with a dynamo machine and record the blood pressure of twelve patients once a day (with much help I might add!) - so I can’t begin to imagine taking a blood pressure observation every fifteen minutes for a full ward of patients - which is something an adult nurse may do every shift.
I am sure that I am not the only student nurse who has felt an age away from the work of other branches of nursing. However, it does make me wonder why on earth we are not required to experience the roles of others with whom we share our profession. With so much collaboration between branches of nursing happening every day and with such a broad client group that each branch deals with, it amazes me that we are not required to encounter a taste of what is like elsewhere. There are so many examples that one may give during which the four branches of nursing overlap: an adult nurse treating a patient with schizophrenia for a broken wrist, a mental health nurse working with children and adolescents, a learning disabilities nurse encountering a patient with a medical condition such as diabetes, or a children’s nurse working with a patient whom is mentally and physically disabled.
Each branch of nursing requires many different, ‘specialised’ skills and knowledge; however, if each student nurse undergoes a first-year of academic study, learning the same theory-based topics, should we not undergo the same placements - even if it is for only a short period of time?
I know that I would most certainly benefit from such experience and it has already been highlighted that student nurses feel that communicating with dementia patients is an issue in itself (Blackhall et al. 2011). The Nursing and Midwifery Council: Code of Conduct (2008) states that regardless of branch, nursing students should have knowledge of other fields of nursing; the argument remains rooted in how an individual can really appreciate the skills and needs of client groups relevant to different branches of nursing if they have never experienced it for themeselves?
After all, as student nurses - or qualified nurses - we can never predict who is going to be in need of help and care; my thought remains, is the nursing profession branching out too far?
Emma Spowart is a first-year mental health nursing student.