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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