2020 is the 'Year of the Nurse and Midwife'. We are continuing to celebrate our nurses and the great work they do by sharing their varied journeys into the nursing profession.
The next in our series is a story by Nick, an Assistant Practitioner on Rougemont Ward, Franklyn Hospital, Exeter. Nick shares his student nursing journey with us and explains what drew him in to becoming a mental health nurse and how he has found working for Devon Partnership NHS Trust during the pandemic.
Why did you want to become a nurse? What drew you to work in either mental health or learning disabilities?
Becoming a nurse was not something that I had ever considered until around seven years ago when my grandad, who I had always been very close to, was diagnosed with dementia. Due to the nature of this illness he quickly developed problems with his memory, ability to do daily tasks independently, as well as becoming more socially withdrawn and anxious. At the same time my family struggled with his diagnosis and were unsure of what they should do to best support him. This led to me doing some research into dementia, as likewise it was also a new concept for me. I remember reading about the importance of still doing the things you enjoy and ensured that I supported him with his favourite activities, such as going to watch local sport. I found that by continuing to do these activities, as well as talking about his condition with him, meant that his needs were being met. This had the desired effect as his mood lifted and his life became more fulfilling.
It is clear to me now that this was the main reason behind me wanting to become a mental health nurse, having seen first-hand how it is possible to make a real difference to someone’s life if you take the time to engage with them in order to understand their needs and aspirations for the future. Around the same time of my grandad’s diagnosis I was also made redundant from my construction job and felt this was the perfect time to pursue my new career. I started off as a support worker at Langdon Hospital, Dawlish in 2014. I will be forever grateful to them for giving me that opportunity, having applied despite the fact I had no real work experience in this area before. My time there provided me with the skills and confidence that I could become a fully registered nurse in the future.
What has your experience been of training at Devon Partnership NHS Trust?
Throughout my career with Devon Partnership NHS Trust I think I have been doing some sort of training or another. I started with the QCF level 3, before moving onto my Assistant Practitioner foundation degree. The organisation had been clear that this was the required pathway onto the full nursing degree, if they ever decided to make funding available. Luckily, as I was coming up to the end of my foundation degree, the Practice Education team informed us that there were seconded, fully funded places being made available to do the nursing degree through either Plymouth University or The Open University. This was fantastic news and luckily, I was able to secure a place at Plymouth for the start of the 2018/19 academic year. Growing your own nurses and having opportunities for career progression is definitely the way forward - I have worked with many fantastic support workers over the years, who would make brilliant nurses and Devon Partnership NHS Trust's excellent career progression opportunities make this possible.
Having spent the last two years as a student nurse in the organisation I have had the privilege of being placed with Exeter Older People's Mental Health (OPMH) Community Team, Delderfield Ward at The Cedars and Rougemont Ward at Franklyn Hospital. My experience of being a student at all three has been wonderful. The staff welcomed me into their teams and fully supported my development. This enabled me to learn a great deal from many highly skilled and passionate practitioners - skills which I will take forward into my own career as a nurse. I would highly recommend all three as great places to be both a student and a qualified nurse. Throughout these placements there has also been regular student supervision provided by the organisation, to ensure that we get all the support we need on placement. Practice Education are also always on hand to try and solve any issues that we may encounter.
How has the reality of nursing during the pandemic differed to your initial training?
The main difference that I have encountered during the pandemic is that I am no longer supernumery. Whereas previously if I was tasked with doing a risk assessment for example, I could go and sit in a back office and spend as much time as I needed to complete it. Now that I am no longer supernumery I must manage my time better and fit in all of the nursing tasks, such as care planning, alongside the other jobs on the ward that I may not have had to do when I was a student e.g. being on Level 3 observations. I think that this has given me a better understanding of what it is like to work as a nurse and experience the challenges that they face on a shift by shift basis. I have improved my delegation and leadership skills, which has been made easier by working with committed and supportive colleagues at Rougemont. I think that since the pandemic started, I have had to learn a lot more about the physical health needs of those I am working with and how this can impact upon mental health as well. I also feel that the pandemic has really highlighted to me the importance of further developing my core nursing skills, especially building strong therapeutic relationships with the patients and their families. This is even more important at a time when we must wear PPE, which can be scary, especially for people who are newly admitted onto ward and are already highly anxious. I now try and spend extra time with the patients because many are feeling very alone and isolated on the ward due to not being allowed out and not having family or friends visit them. Going and doing something as small as sitting with them in their rooms over a cup of tea when they are being barrier nursed can make a real difference to their mental wellbeing.
Despite the challenges the pandemic has placed on wards and the services across the organisation, my current placement at Rougemont has always been very supportive of my development and they work extra hard in trying to provide me with learning opportunities, even when the ward is extra busy, as it is currently. Thank you Rougemont! I cannot wait to start my preceptorship with you on the 27th of July.
Would you recommend your job and Devon Partnership NHS Trust to others?
I would recommend Devon Partnership NHS Trust as a place to come and work, especially if you are looking for career progression or aspire to become a registered nurse. As an organisation they are very supportive of staff growth and development, whilst their nursing students’ wellbeing is prioritised, during what can be a very challenging degree programme. Devon Partnership NHS Trust also has the bonus of being surrounded by some of the best green spaces and beaches in the county, which research suggests have positive impacts on mental health. In very challenging times I have found these to be even more valuable resources for maintaining my own personal wellbeing.
Are you using social media to grow your network and help with your studies?
I must admit that I am not really the biggest fan of social media as it can distract you from the more important things in life. However, in the current and final year of my training I have started to use Twitter more frequently. It can be a useful place to obtain advice from other current student nurses or those who are newly qualified. I have recently received several tweets from previous managers and colleagues, as well as one from the Chief Executive, Melanie Walker, congratulating me on finishing my degree and obtaining my first RMN role at Rougemont, which was a nice touch.