At my university, the first year for all nursing branches, paramedics and ODPs is called a common foundation programme. It provided us with the fundamental skills needed for working in healthcare and introduced us to anatomy and physiology, psychology, sociology and healthcare law.
I felt like I had covered very little mental health in my first year and whilst the things we were learning were important, it felt like it was all geared towards the adult branch students. I understood that that first year was just forming a basis for nursing practice, but at first I felt somewhat disadvantaged.
Despite the first year being a common foundation, all branches had the entirety of their placements in their chosen areas. At first glance of my portfolio, I was concerned that it would be difficult to meet all of the requirements to enter second year. For example, a lot of the portfolio seemed focused on physical care. In mental health settings, there wasn’t the same opportunity to practice vital signs or moving and handling as there may have been on a medical ward. Eventually we were told that we didn’t have to necessarily carry out the portfolio requirements, but just be able to talk it through with our mentors. I couldn’t help but feel that if the separate branches had separate portfolios, it would be more relevant to our practice.
A requirement for our portfolio is that we visit services associated with our placement as well as arranging visits to services in different branches. I decided that, rather than feel like I was at a disadvantage, I would use opportunities such as these to develop skills that I may not have been able to in my mental health setting.
It used to be that nursing training would start off with eighteen months of general training before you chose a branch to specialise in. By the time you chose your branch you’d have a firm grasp of clinical nursing skills. Some universities arrange insight placements - rather than spending just a day in a different branch, you had a good few weeks there to experience it. Whilst I have found that spending a day in different services has been really beneficial, it is not enough to be able to really get involved.
I know that regardless of how the degree was structured I would still be a mental health nurse, but it would be beneficial to my practice if I was able to really understand how other branches work. We are expected to work in multi-professional teams so having a good understanding of how others work would greatly improve teamwork, communication and - subsequently - patient care. Now that I am in my second year I feel much more confident with all aspects of care thanks to the common foundation programme.
It occurred to me as I was writing this blog that it wouldn’t matter how nursing training was structured, as even when I qualify there will still be things to learn. There will always be those who think that students should focus on their particular branch and others who think that training should be better-rounded. Regardless, nursing is a career that requires continual education and there will always be more skills to develop.
Natalie Moore, mental health student nurse editor