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FRESHERS’ WEEK

'Our role is to treat more than just the physical'

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Victoria’s volunteer experience opened her eyes to how much more nurses and studnet nurses can do for people affected by loneliness

The world is a lonely place for someone who has seen their world slowly picked apart by gradually losing their partner and their friends.

For many older adults in our community, the TV is their only company and a nurse visit is the only two-way conversation they have. This isn’t new and it’s been a taboo subject in society for years.

Before I became a student I was involved in volunteering for a charity that helped lonely older people and I was aware of the sadness in their lives.

“I always wondered how I’d cope leaving an older person at home knowing they had very little support”

I always wondered how I’d cope leaving an older person at home knowing they had very little support; how would I stay within the boundaries of my role without seeming heartless – where do these broken hearts go when they have nowhere to turn?

80s song lyrics aside, I was frightened of my community nursing placement.

I remember asking my mentor what Christmas was like and she told me tales of her heartbreak at leaving someone alone when she was returning back to her family that evening.

It got me thinking – what can we do? We are nurses, we are there to treat the physiological problems of the patient whilst assessing for any psychological concerns. Loneliness is thought to impact both of these so we should take it seriously and we should take action.

Working in the community is special, you are in the privileged position of gaining regular insight into people’s lives; we should therefore openly discuss social concerns with them in an environment that is comfortable for them.

“Don’t just treat the physical – start a conversation whilst you are there”

Don’t just treat the physical – start a conversation whilst you are there and discretely assess their level of social interaction and whether they want this to change.

We can refer to other organisations and charities – there are many out there that can provide support. If a person is religious, contact their local religious leader and ask for support. If a person is not from the UK, perhaps identify a local community group that can help them find friends.

“Working in the community is special, you are in the privileged position of gaining regular insight into people’s lives”

Words may be cheap, but they last a lifetime when said with true empathy and thoughtfulness.

I recall once making a cup of tea for a relative of a patient. The patient was asleep and the relative was at this moment in time the one person that needed looking after.

We chatted about the patient and their history together over a particularly British cup of tea (what doesn’t a cup of tea solve?). The relative had tears in their eyes thanking me and I felt like this was the biggest achievement of my week.

Learning to treat the physical is one thing, but learning to spot the signs of loneliness and subtle emotional distress is something that as student nurses we must burden ourselves with.

This is our role.

We are the people that can get to know our patients and with their consent we can help them adjust to life without their loved ones and repair a little bit of that broken heart.

Victoria Abrahams is in her second year studying adult nursing at Birmingham City University

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