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STUDENT BLOGS

'Nursing whilst wearing a headscarf: what I've found'

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The first day I wore my headscarf to work I was terrified; I had worked as a HCA for two years and been “undercover” with regards to my religion throughout that time.

But now, as I embarked on my mental health nursing degree, I decided it was time to take a leap into the unknown.

As I stepped onto the ward I prepared myself for negative comments from patients who I’d known for years and from colleagues who didn’t know about my faith.

But thankfully, and much to my surprise, the response was amazing. The patients asked me about my scarf and my decision to begin wearing it. It was a great way to start a dialogue. 

“As I stepped onto the ward I prepared myself for negative comments from patients who I’d known for years”

I am currently on placement in an CMHT for older adults and have not found my headscarf to be a barrier in working with older people at all.

It has been humbling that not a single service user has made a negative comment and they have even hidden their surprise at me turning up on their doorstep - after their long conversations with the English-sounding Alice on the telephone - wearing a headscarf. One woman even said it suited me and complimented the different colours and patterns I wear when I visit her.

“It has been humbling that not a single service user has made a negative comment”

I feel I am a visible representative of my religion, and with all the bad representations of Muslims in the media I feel I am helping to change perspectives for people that may not have any other exposure to people like me.

I eventually want to complete my Masters in nursing by focusing on faith as an aspect of mental health recovery, and have found my own expression of faith, through a simple piece of fabric, has made me more human towards my patients.

”[…] my own expression of faith, through a simple piece of fabric, has made me more human towards my patients”

As I am sharing with them a part of my life and my personality they feel comfortable about sharing their own life with me. They will speak to me about their viewpoints on faith, whether they are religious or not, and it has helped me develop therapeutic relationships, as opposed to destroy them which was my main concern when first wearing my headscarf.

“I feel I am helping to change perspectives for people that may not have any other exposure to people like me”

Of course, we must be careful when discussing religion at work as there are obviously policies and procedures with regards to proselytising to the vulnerable, being offensive to others’ beliefs and forcing our viewpoints on to people.

But if you can carefully balance your faith and professionalism, treating everyone with respect, care, compassion and dignity, then faith can play a wonderful part in developing therapeutic relationships.

We are lucky that in the NHS we work within a large multicultural and multifaith workforce and it is a fantastic resource that we can use to our advantage to improve our relationships with patients and peers of all backgrounds.

Alice Thorn is a 2nd year mental health nursing student at the University of Greenwich

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  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • Someone can correct me if I'm wrong but I seem to recall a few years ago that a nurse - a practicing Christian - was suspended for offering to pray with a patient who was also a Christian. You need to be ultra cautious about introducing any aspect of your personal faith into your workplace, most especially the nursing environment.

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  • I just finished my nursing training and wear a headscarf and had similar concerns about how patients and staff would react to me but it has all been fine (only a few negative comments). I find it also opens up conversation about faith and patients always come to me for expression of their spirituality (whatever that me be). I am always super cautious though as Phillipe mentions above. Patients often ask about my aspects of my faith and I have to be very careful when answering and sometimes have to dodge certain conversations to avoid entering into unprofessional territory. However personal faith can really add to some patient experiences and should not be shyed away from providing it is appropriate.

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  • Continuing from above, faith can also be useful in certain situations. I was looking after a very religious Christian women who had decided not to have her pericardial effusion drained even though it was showing early signs of cardiac tamponade. She believed God would save her and she didn't need the procedure. Doctors had tried for days to persuade her to have it done as she was in a life threatening situation. However, they were coming from an entirely medical perspective lacking any spiritual input and she remained adamant. I sat down with her and decided the only way to approach this would be from a spiritual angle and I sat and talked to her. I talked about what faith taught us (as Christians and Muslims) and how God works in all different ways. After a good dialogue she agreed to have the procedure done. I think this is a fantastic example of how faith can have benefit in the nursing environment.

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