I have been wanting to write this particular blog for a while but the workload of a second-year student is great, and free time is unfortunately sparse. This lack of free time often makes it difficult to achieve a good work/ life balance, but with a little creativity and a positive attitude it can still be a possibility.
One thing that year-two has taught me is the importance of taking opportunities and also being proactive and creating your own opportunities. It is all too easy to make excuses as to why we can’t do things (too much work, not enough time, too many assessments – the list goes on), but it’s just as easy to flip this around and look at how we can organise ourselves, making it possible to say ‘yes’ and ‘I can’ rather than ‘no’ and ‘I can’t’. I understand that this is not possible for everybody and I also appreciate that we all have contrasting aims and ambitions, but it is worth remembering that our time at University is short and our careers hopefully long and rewarding. It is my belief that what we put in now will form the basis of the nurses that we will eventually become.
From a personal point of view, I feel that my whole second-year has been defined by a decision I made to apply for a place on the Student Leadership Programme (offered by The Council of Deans and The Burdett Trust). Initially I found myself making excuses as to why applying wouldn’t be viable, but after a period of deliberation I decided it was an opportunity that was too good to miss and I submitted an application online. To say I was surprised to be offered a place would be an understatement and it has turned out to be the best decision of my academic journey so far. Not only has it been a fantastic experience, it has also opened doors to other fantastic experiences and has helped me to grow both personally and professionally. I have also been encouraged to embrace social media, and through Twitter I have been able to build a network of contacts from all areas of healthcare which has proved to be an invaluable source of knowledge, advice, guidance and support.
I will admit that taking on ‘extra curricular activities’ has increased my workload somewhat, but much of that has been through choice and not through obligation. I still managed to submit all of my academic work on time, and my University (University of Wolverhampton) have been very supportive and encouraging. Not only have I survived the year (all being well with my results!), I feel as though I have learned so much more than I could have learned from any powerpoint or in any lecture theatre (no offence Wolverhampton lecturers – you are all fab!).
From a practice perspective, year two has been very giving – I have now experienced general, school, mental health and forensic nursing, as well as the field-specific nursing opportunities that learning disability nursing presents. I have learned that although different branches may all require different skills, the core skills required are exactly the same in every branch; skills that were outlined by Jane Cummings in 2012 – care, compassion, courage, communication, commitment and competence. This year has outlined to me the importance of diverse nursing (and non-nursing) experiences and also the over-importance that we students place on our PAD documents. I am not saying that the PAD document is not important – it is. It sets out the minimum standards that we need to attain in order to progress through our nursing degrees, but the emphasis there is on the word ‘minimum’. I feel that the PAD is overly generic and there are certain skills that we all need in our specific fields that may not be totally covered in our PAD documents. As a student it is very easy to judge our placement experiences solely on how much we can get ‘signed off’ while we are there, and while I agree that this is important, it is equally important to value the experiences and the skills gained in placements where this is not possible.
An example of this was a two week placement that I was lucky enough to experience at Dudley Voices for Choice – a charity that champions self-advocacy, develops easy-read material and employs people with learning disabilities to deliver training and raise awareness of their experiences and the barriers that they face (DVC do so much more than this – I have attached a link). I gained so much from this placement – much of which was above and beyond what was set out in my PAD document. Does this mean the placement was not a valuable one? Of course it doesn’t – I gained so much from the experience that I have arranged to do some voluntary work with them during the summer holidays (at which point I am hoping my year-two PAD will be a distant memory!).
As nurses we are in a very privileged position – we share life defining moments with people every day – we get to help people and we get to share and ease people’s pain. There is no tick box for being able to do this – we rely on the skills and the tools that we have developed during our training and our lives in general. We have professional rules, standards and guidelines that we have to follow to ensure the safety of the people we care for, but again those standards are the minimum that should be expected. In my opinion, the difference between being a competent nurse and a fantastic nurse depends largely upon the things that we do that exceed peoples expectations – the smiling, listening, empathising and caring. Nursing is not an easy job, in fact nursing is in no way ‘just a job’. What we do every day, and every interaction we have with our patients and the people we support has an effect. We can help people to recover from an accident or illness; we can save lives; we can help people develop skills that increase their independence; and we can provide a voice for those who find it difficult to be heard.
With work as important as this – doing ‘just enough’ just isn’t enough.