“Which branch are you?” is often the first question on our lips when we meet another student nurse or registered nurse.
This question subconsciously structures how the rest of the conversation goes.
It’s a simple question with a simple answer, but the resounding silence after that answer or the enthusiastic “me too!” means one of two things, either “I understand you” or “I don’t understand what you do”.
The truth is if we’re from different branches, we probably don’t really understand each other.
We’re four branches who have not yet worked out that we come from the same tree. Our bark, our roots, our everything comes from caring.
We all care, that’s the centre of nursing, but our separate branches have made that bond seem so fragile.
I study learning disability nursing and we are a small branch compared to others, but we care deeply about what we do.
The number of our army is so finite we’re often painted the victim, forgotten by the bigger branches and misunderstood, because “what do learning disability nurses actually do?”
Sometimes I think this is because we’re not widely known, but actually I feel it is time to admit something: I have no idea what an adult nurse really does.
I have a stereotypical image in my head that I know cannot be true, and I think it’s the same for all branches, because we don’t take the time to work with and learn from one another. We hear the whispers and see the horror stories and as much as we deny it, we are not immune to the media’s fictitious view of what we do.
The problem is, we don’t make enough effort to get the truth.
Together, our four branches are capable of caring for any person in the world; any age, illness or ability. We all have different skills and strengths, and weaknesses, different areas of expertise and types of communication, and not one of us is a superhero.
Not one of us can do everything…
And yet, if we struggle we tend to reach for the nearest hand inside our own branch, instead of reaching just that little bit further into the hands of someone who can provide us with the answers and experience we need.
We need to teach each other, work with each other, and make the effort to understand each other.
Why wouldn’t we want to provide the best care possible, and why wouldn’t we make the simple steps to do so?
It’s a waste of our energy to continue the fight to prove that our care is more important than that provided by another branch, it is not productive and it’s not effective.
Childhood, adulthood, learning disabilities and mental illness are not mutually exclusive; every adult was once a child, and any adult or child can have or become affected by mental illness and learning disabilities.
By working together, we can stop compartmentalising our patients and start making positive changes to healthcare provision and nursing solidarity.
Lucy Cleden-Radford is Student Nursing Times’ child branch editor