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Is there a place for peer support in nursing education?

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We need enable ‘peer support’ to tackle student nurses’ mental health issues and their wellbeing, writes Sabrina Carter

We often hear of the psychological stress and burnout that comes with being a nurse in practice. But what about students?

How do student nurses fare in all of this? Well, according to my dissertation, not very well either. You see, in the last 700 words or so of my ‘background’ I discuss the existing health and wellbeing of student nurses, and in all honesty it all comes across as rather bleak.

To oversimplify, generalise and put bluntly, we are stressed from our assignments, we are stressed from the constant readjustment that comes with clinical placements, and we are not really looking after our own physical wellbeing in the process. In fact, a lot of research seems to cast a rather large shadow over our sunny Bank Holiday Mondays.

Reading such findings only reinforces my own experiences of training as a mental health nurse. It’s hardly the escapism you might wish for from a 20 episode Netflix series. Indeed, I am not the only one who has had their fair share of personal difficulties on this course, and I certainly won’t be the last.

“We are not really looking after our own physical wellbeing”

But - and it is a massive but - if we are to tackle such challenges to improve student nurse health and wellbeing, surely we must have the opportunity to share openly what initiatives may currently be out there to help support student nurses’ needs? After all, it lies not only in the interests of student nurse welfare, but also in the interests of the service-users in our health service.

So, what does the term ‘peer support’ really mean? Could it find a place in nursing education?

For me, peer support is about creating a safe and comfortable space for individuals to share their experiences and be listened to without judgement in a supportive environment. Indeed, simply being in the company of someone who has experienced similar feelings to you can go a long way in helping you to feel a little less alone.

 The sad truth is however, that during my time at university I have become aware of the stigma attached to students admitting to fellow students and to staff that they are struggling to cope.

Surely then, creating a space for student nurses with experience of mental health difficulties to lead, to share, to connect, to empower, and to support others alongside their training simply makes sense.

So, in collaboration with professor Anne Felton, lecturer in mental health at the School of Health Sciences at The University of Nottingham and the Institute of Mental Health, we are hoping to launch The Bridge Network for healthcare students at the University of Nottingham.

The Bridge Network will be a student-led peer support network promoting mental wellbeing in the School of Health Sciences, placing student values at the heart of the project. Indeed, we want to engage students and we want to help diversify the emotional support that is currently available to student nurses.

“The Bridge Network will be a student-led peer support network”

In order to do so however, we need to raise funds through crowdfunding so we can succeed in offering student peer facilitators accredited training programmes, resources, supervision and conference fees to allow students to set up the network and tell people about it.

So, if you would like to find out more or to make a donation, you can watch our awkward video here. Now to continue with this 20 episode Netflix box set, I mean dissertation…

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