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Did you say 'learning disability nursing'?

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Student NT editor Rebecca Hammond discusses perceptions of learning disability nurses.

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Throughout my learning disability nursing training, I have often encountered professionals who question the learning disability nursing profession.

The phrases “a learning disability nurse isn’t a real nurse” and “you’re a support worker” are all too familiar. 

The phrase “a proper nurse” concerns me. What is a proper nurse? My concern is that there a misconception that nursing is only about needles, injections and medication dispensing. It is as though some people only think of nursing as working with either adults or children.

Maybe it’s down to the lack of education of learning disabilities or maybe it’s because the learning disability nursing field isn’t as well known as adult, child and mental health.

The answer is, yes, when we graduate from university we will be “proper nurses”. Yes, we will graduate with the same band of nursing in likeness to the adult, child and mental health fields.

The differences are that we specialise in working with individuals with learning disabilities and are least likely to work in a hospital setting due to more services moving out into the community.

“Building positive and therapeutic relationships is at the heart of learning disability nursing”

One thing that I love about our client group is that we get to work closely with them over a longer period of time. Working in a community-based setting is unlike working in A&E. I have an opportunity to build therapeutic relationships with patients and their families. I will be able to work with patients and their families over a longer period of a time – I do not just treat them and send them on their way.

I believe that building positive and therapeutic relationships is at the heart of learning disability nursing.

Throughout my studies and placement experience, I have realised just how much attitudes towards learning disability nursing needs to change.

I believe that change can not only come from the government funding more universities to run learning disability nursing courses, but also the attitudes of some professionals.

You only have to look at the Confidential Inquiry into Premature Deaths of People with Learning Disabilities and the MENCAP reports to see that learning disability nurses are needed.

We have a positive impact on the lives of individuals with learning disabilities and their families. We could make a bigger impact if we have the support from the government.

“All fields need to take a holistic approach”

All fields of nursing – whether adult, child, learning disability or mental health – should work together to provide the patient with the best possible health outcome.

We need to have more conversations with all fields. After all, we all have a collective goal of improving our care and partnership working.

All fields need to take a holistic approach to ensure that we do not only treat the physical (what we can see) but also the psychological and social barriers of health.

As student nurses and registered nurses, we hold the power to change people’s perception of learning disability nursing and give our field a voice.

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