Sabrina’s first experience of presenting at a nursing conference may have been terrifying, but she can’t recommend it highly enough
Sitting there on the third row from the back, I could feel my heart pounding faster, my palms getting sweatier and my throat becoming drier, as my stomach growled for more conference tea and biscuits.
Of course, the symptoms were classic – symptoms I had regularly come across in psychology textbooks, but had somehow become estranged from in my own personal life over the last year or so.
Clearly my body was preparing me for something, and really, I should have just sat back and let the adrenalin and cortisol do its thing. But no, my mind wanted to resist these natural processes, and that certainly wasn’t a good ‘look’ for anyone.
In fact, it’s safe to say I probably looked like the most disinterested delegate there. Whilst I was appearing to listen to the presenter, instead, I was focusing on fighting the powerful urge to hurl and leave the room. I was having an inner conflict with myself about whether to ‘fight’ or ‘fly’ from this highly anxiety-provoking situation, and ‘flying’ was taking the winning lead.
“And next up is a student from the University of Nottingham, talking about student wellbeing in higher education”.
”Turns out that putting yourself out there and seeing what happens really can make all sorts of things possible”
And that was it - my queue to stand up and walk in the opposite direction to the fire exit. At first I felt trapped because frankly, there is little escape once you’re called to give a presentation in front of a room full of mental health academics. Thankfully however, it didn’t take long for the adrenalin to kick-in and a (nervous) smile to begrudgingly find its way onto my face, as I made my way to the front of the audience.
In April this year, I made a very bold decision to submit an abstract for the 22nd International Psychiatric Nursing Research Conference 2016 in September. With the support and encouragement of my facilitator, this was an opportunity to apply to present work I had been doing throughout my second year to some of the most reputable academics in the field of mental health nursing.
“Sure!” I thought. “Why not give it a go?” the head voice continued, “There’s no harm in trying…”.
There really was no harm in trying – turns out that putting yourself out there and seeing what happens really can make all sorts of things possible. And so, there I was, facing a crowd hanging onto every word that parted from my lips, as I spoke for 15 minutes about a topic that is incredibly close to my heart.
“I never truly expected an academic conference to accept an abstract from a student like myself”
While I may have just described above one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever encountered at university, please know that it is also one of my most treasured. For I never truly expected an academic conference to accept an abstract from a student like myself; nor for such a conference to be so warm, so welcoming, and so supportive towards nursing students taking their first baby steps into the world of academia.
To somehow find the confidence to deliver a presentation in front of all those eager-eyed people in such an unfamiliar environment tells me one thing – as nursing students we have so much to gain and so little to lose by having the courage to share our learning in this way. Yes, we’re students. But yes, we still have something valuable to say in informing and innovating future nursing practice.
So, this is my message to every nursing student who has ever doubted themselves as worthy and capable of an opportunity they’ve been dreaming about. Give it a go. Put yourself out there. Listen to the kind people around you that support you. And quieten that little voice in the back of your mind that’s telling you it’s probably not possible.
Because you never know what’s around the corner.