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'When it comes to community placements, you have to take the rough with the smooth'

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Kieran was disappointed with his first community placement, but on reflection he realised that the aspects he had seen as “bad” were valuable learning opportunities

Kieran Uttley_SNT

Working with adults and children with learning disabilities and associated conditions is my passion.

So, at the end of first year when we were asked to choose our own placement areas for our two-week electives, I chose health visiting. I was hoping this would give me more exposure to generic services and to working as part of a multi-disciplinary team.

I was looking forward to getting involved and using the skills I had developed throughout the year.

Health visiting is seen as a specialised field as you must be a qualifed nurse before becoming a health visitor. The service supports children from newborns up to 5 years of age and their families, working with individuals from all walks of life.

On my first day I could see that the team was set up differently to what I was used to. I felt open and left vulnerable, I suspect the health care assistant noticed this and kindly offered to make me a drink.

The office felt chaotic and busy, with phones ringing and case files everywhere. I asked myself “How can you deliver person centred, holistic care from this?”

But, despite feeling out of my comfort zone, I was eager to learn and wanted to help in any way I could.

For my first couple of days I was tasked with cleaning the changing mats. This was fine, but I wanted to do more, nothing out of my remit, but I was keen to ask questions, talk to the parents, weigh a child. Anything that was actually related to my training.

I quickly became frustrated with the constant knock backs and with hearing “you’re only here for two weeks”.

In our training we are told to grasp every learning opportunity and I tried, I really did.

This constant battle, which actually only lasted 10 days but seemed like forever, knocked my confidence. It made me rethink my role as a student and question what I could have done differently.

This sort of experince can even make you question if nursing is for you.

Community services tend to have very different ways of working to inpatient settings. However they have lots to offer, even if you’re not always developing your clinical nursing skills.

My elective placement helped me to develop my patience and resilience and my commitment to nurse regardless of how many hurdles are put in my way.

Today, my tutor group had our community placement inductions.

The team leader came in and told us what to except and what we should be offering as students to the teams. This made me realise how special working in the community is, just from my small taster of it. People are letting us enter their homes, for us to care and nurse them.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is a very different way of working for student nurses, and mentors may have different stresses to mentors on the wards; these might make them appear uninterested in supporting us while on placement.

But there is lots to learn from these sorts of experiences. Being a student isn’t all about your clinical skills but also your interpersonal qualities, of resilience and commitment to be a rounded, skilled, nursing professional in the future.

My advice is to take the rough with the smooth, take every learning opportunity you can to develop your learning, reflect on it and be patient.

Kieran Uttley is in his first year studying learning disability nursing at Keele University

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