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Year of the Nurse: Cara's Story

Posted by Devon Partnership Trust in Mental health, News, Nursing, Recovery and wellbeing on 18th June, 2020

We are celebrating 2020 being the ‘Year of the Nurse and Midwife’ by collating stories from our brilliant nursing staff. You can read them here, including a selection of personal accounts of Nursing in the time of COVID-19.

This week, Cara Axworthy, Assistant Practitioner on Jasmine Lodge, the Mother and Baby Unit in Exeter, shares the story of her journey as a Student Nurse and her time working with us.

Why did you want to become a nurse? What drew you to work in either mental health or learning disabilities?

Nursing was something that crept up on me, rather than a childhood ambition. I found myself quite lost in life following completing an English degree that involved more partying than studying. I had no clear direction, goals or purpose and my mental health suffered as a result. I began working as a community support worker, following a series of jobs which I found unfulfilling and lacking in value. I was inspired to work with vulnerable people within my community, following a family member’s diagnosis of MS which led to a decline in their mental health and social isolation. I thrived in this role, enjoying the varied and unpredictable nature.

Whilst working in this capacity I supported people with learning disabilities, mental health conditions and debilitating physical illnesses. One of my clients had a learning disability and suffered from agoraphobia; I worked closely alongside her over a period of six months supporting her to leave her home, building her confidence in accessing her local community and develop anxiety management techniques. I found this piece of work exceptionally rewarding and it inspired me to return to university to complete my mental health nursing degree.

What has your experience been of training at Devon Partnership NHS Trust?

I have, without exception, found every team I have trained with to be welcoming, supportive, committed to delivering high-quality care and encouraging of student suggestions for quality improvement. Devon Partnership NHS Trust have shown commitment to supporting student nurses professionally and with their mental wellbeing via the practice education team who run student supervision sessions regularly, creating a strong community feel amongst student nurses.

How has the reality of nursing during the pandemic differed to your initial training?

The reality of mental health nursing during the pandemic is that we are facing many challenges and restrictions to previous therapeutic practice. The pandemic has led to multiple, daily changes to practice in accordance with government initiative, trust policy and guidance from infection control. I hit the ground running, beginning my placement on a night shift, donning full PPE and heading to the isolation area.

COVID-19 has demonstrated the value of authentic mental health nursing skills, with genuine and open communication building trust in the nurse-patient relationship to overcome barriers to therapeutic relationships such as full PPE blocking non-verbal communication and risking misinterpretation. Our core nursing skills can sometimes be overlooked in favour of theoretical or practical skills, however, in a restricted non-therapeutic environment such as the isolation area, these have proven invaluable. COVID-19 has also required me to further develop my clinical physical health skills and demonstrated the close link between deteriorating physical health and mental state. With the removal of my supernumerary status I have been challenged to become more confident in my leadership skills, nursing impression, practice and clinical decision making.

The nursing team at Jasmine Lodge have been extremely committed to ensuring that whilst we are working in challenging, uncertain times, that I receive support to ensure I am meeting and exceeding the competencies required by the NMC for professional registration this summer. Being a student nurse during this pandemic has been fast-paced and at times, anxiety provoking - however, my placement within such a warm and encouraging team has provided the opportunity for professional growth and the development of creative solutions to challenges and restrictions in order to continue to provide high quality care for patients in a therapeutic environment.

Would you recommend your job and Devon Partnership NHS Trust to others?

I would recommend Devon Partnership NHS Trust as a host trust to other student nurses due to their commitment to quality improvement and dedication to ensuring students are supported throughout their placements, via the practice education team and the wider student nurse community.

Are you using social media to grow your network and help with your studies?

Prior to COVID-19, I had not been particularly active on social media in a professional capacity. However, it has provided the opportunity to communicate successes, excellent practice and kind gestures and donations. Social media has provided nurses the ability to communicate positively, in what has been an isolative time, spreading positivity and hope.