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Year of the Nurse - Katie's story

Posted by Devon Partnership Trust in Mental health, News, Nursing on 6th July, 2020

Throughout 2020, we are celebrating the 'Year of the Nurse and Midwife' by sharing the inspiring stories of our wonderful nursing staff throughout Devon Partnership NHS Trust. Today, Katie Risdon, Student nurse/Health Care Assistant, gives us an insight into her inspiration to become a nurse, and through her career in mental health.

Why did you want to become a nurse?

I’ve worked in mental health for 10 years now in roles including Housing Support Worker, Community Support Worker, Health Care Assistant, Volunteer, and CBT Therapist. All of these roles have been so valuable and the nurses I met along the way were inspirational in their care, compassion and creativity. These experiences allowed me to see a way of working that connected to me and my personal history, and I wanted to be a part of that. Personally, I love getting to know people and understanding their individual personalities, qualities, and values. The most rewarding and heart-warming thing we get to experience is supporting patients to become more independent in their lives, sometimes achieving things they once thought were impossible. That is something I will never tire of, and it is just one of the many reasons why I wanted to become a nurse. The fact that we are valued for our own individual personality, skills, and experiences is special too, how many careers really emphasise that?

What drew you to work in either mental health or learning disabilities?

As a child I had selective mutism and experienced the death of my father. I saw my mother go through a period of extended bereavement and depression, and the effect this had on both myself and the rest of the family rippled out. We had therapy individually and systemically, but there was much less support in the early 90s, especially in more rural areas of Devon. I grew up with an understanding and experience of mental health, but this developed further when I was 16. My Grandfather was a farmer and he became physically unwell leading on to mental illness. He was a man who didn’t believe in showing emotion – it was a weakness to him. It was hard for him to come to terms with losing his physical strength and deal with the realisation that even he could become vulnerable. After his death, my wonderfully strong willed and quick-witted Gran developed vascular dementia. She stayed at home and my mother and I were her carers until the end.

All of these experiences instilled the importance of supporting people with mental health difficulties, raising awareness, and challenging stigma. I became passionate about providing the support that we didn’t receive in the 90s, helping people earlier in their illness, and educating and supporting them through their recovery. When I was younger, I wished I had more understanding of some of the behaviours I saw at the time, and how to help more. I guess this was the original driving force pushing me to educate myself and eventually choose a career in mental health.

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

I moved to Devon Partnership NHS Trust after having placements in Somerset in my first year, and my experience so far has been brilliant. I was placed with Exmouth Community Team for my third placement. The team were experienced and supportive with excellent management, and I was given opportunities to lead sessions with patients, present cases in group supervision, and more independent working with a colleague’s guidance. I felt fully included in everything whilst I was there and I’m so grateful to have been placed with the team for my first community placement.

I am currently on a COVID-19 placement with Russell Clinic which is a paid Health Care Assitant (HCA) role rather than a typical nursing placement. I have just finished my first week and I’m sure that this will be another great experience. As soon as I was placed, the team communicated with me, shifts were organised, and I received an induction pack. I tend to be quite anxious going into new placements and having this kind of introduction really helps to put you at ease as a student. I’m really passionate about recovery and person-centred care so I look forward to seeing what I learn from everyone during my time there. Next week I have opportunities to spend time with the Occupational Therapists (OTs), go to reflective groups, and attend meetings. I have also been allocated a patient to work alongside on the ward. Despite being here in an HCA role I am still lucky enough to be able to experience some really valuable learning opportunities as a student.

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

As I mentioned above, our placements are different, and our formal practical assessments have been moved to next year. I think for me there’s an anxiety around the amount of assessments and hours that need to be completed next year, but I know this is an experience we are all going through, and we will be fully supported. In terms of being on placement, there are changes due to the use of PPE, uniform and communication. What I have found hardest so far is wearing masks. I didn’t realise just how much I relied on my facial expressions during communication with both patients and staff and I’ve found it really difficult to get used to. I find myself smiling at people and realising that it can’t be seen. Sometimes I find myself waving at the same time now to make sure people see that I’m still friendly behind the mask! If I was a patient, I know that I’d find it unsettling if I couldn’t see people’s faces and expressions, on top of the uncertainty and changes that we’re all going through. We all need to create the calm within the storm for our patients and each-other, now more than ever.

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

Definitely. It’s not easy but it is so rewarding, and you will be learning for life. Teamwork and support are key, and I’ve found plenty of that in the organisation so far. If anyone is interested in applying to a nursing degree, I would fully recommend it. Our nursing lecturers are incredible and will support you in any way they can, and the placement team are always available for any questions on top of our regular supervision meetings.