Welcome to my blog and welcome to the LD Nursing family!
Well, what can I say other than I think you have made a fantastic decision in opting to become a student nurse, and in my opinion an even better decision in choosing the learning disability field. I am however very biased – I love my course, I am very happy with my choice of University (University of Wolverhampton) and most importantly I am extremely passionate about the ‘LD’ field and all of the amazing people that we support.
So, why am I writing this blog? Well, after helping to host a recent session at my University where new students were invited to ask questions and discuss issues with current students, I was reminded of when I started my own journey and I thought back to all of the questions that I should have asked and all of the advice I wish I had been given prior to starting my training. Hopefully, this blog will answer a few of those questions, dispel a few myths and give you a better idea of what to expect over the next three years. Please do bear in mind however that different Universities have slightly different programmes and any observations that I make are from my own personal perspective and based on my experiences and opinions alone.
Should I Do Anything To Prepare For The Course?
I guess that’s up to you, but my advice would be not to overdo it. Organisation is the key – check the flow through for your first year, take a look at the module guides (if you have access to them) and try to speak to other students regarding the course. What I would not do is blindly read through nursing books in the hope of gaining knowledge – you will just end up feeling confused and overwhelmed (I speak from personal experience!). If you do want to read anything at all I would suggest that you download and read through some of the important papers and legislation that are important to people with learning disabilities and to those of us that care for and support them. You will revisit these papers many times over the next few years (I will include links at the end of this blog), so why not download them, book a holiday, pack them in a suitcase (or save them electronically) and read them on a beach, somewhere warm with an ice-cold drink in your hand? Make the most of your free time – you will thank me for this advice towards the end of your first year.
Do I Need To Buy Anything?
The easy answer to this one is ‘no’ but again it all comes down to personal choice. I remember when I first started the course and the most important question in the world seemed to be “what shoes should I buy? I hear that student nurses need super-special shoes?”. Well, in my experience this is just a case of common sense. Of course, we should wear comfortable shoes, but the shoe issues are more relevant to ‘adult field’ students working on the ward as they spend a lot more time on their feet (I loved my adult nursing placement, but it also made me understand why they need super-special shoes!!). Some students also spend lots of money on stethoscopes, sphygmomanometers (you may never learn how to say this word out loud – stick with the word ‘sphyg’), books, fob watches etc etc. My advice would be to save your money as you may or may not use these items regularly on your placements or as part of your studies. Just wait and see what you need when you get out in the field, and only buy books that are going to be of use for the duration of your course rather than for individual modules (I will include a list that I have found particularly useful at the end of the blog).
Should I be Worried About The Academic Work?
Now, this is an area that you may or may not need to work on before the start of your course depending on your previous education. Most Universities offer academic writing classes and critical thinking sessions which can be a very useful way of getting yourself up to speed before you start the course, and it may also prove useful to purchase a study skills handbook if you feel that you could benefit with some extra guidance. Don’t worry too much however, as your first-year is marked at level four, moves up to level five during your second-year and finishes at level six. This means that your learning is staggered and your academic writing should improve as the course progresses. This is one of the main reasons why it is so important to take on board all of the feedback you are given and to treat any criticisms you may receive constructively. I think it’s also worth pointing out that some people are more academic than others and that struggling academically does not necessarily mean you will not make a fantastic nurse, it just means that some people may have to work a little harder to attain grades than others. The feeling of passing a module and surpassing your own expectations is amazing though and it will without doubt make all of the hard work worthwhile. Just make sure that you attend all of your lectures, make use of all of your tutorials, and utilise all of the support that your University may offer.
It’s probably also worth mentioning that the vast majority of your assessments will not be field specific and will be generic to all fields (only one or two modules a semester may be specific learning disability modules). These assignments may include written reflections or case-studies, written or multiple choice exams, group presentations, health promotions and by other means that I may have unconsciously erased from my memory. Every student will have their own personal strengths and therefore will excel in different areas – but all of the modules and methods of delivery are challenging for their own different reasons. Never underestimate the challenges presented by group work!!
What Can I Expect From My Placements?
Expect the unexpected. During your three years, you will have some amazing experiences, possibly mixed with some disappointing ones and even the odd negative one, but an experience is an experience which you can nearly always take some kind of positive out of. I would say that as a Learning Disability Nursing Student we have the most varied and diverse set of placements out of all of the nursing fields. Not only do we get the chance to work in the adult field (on the wards!), the mental health field, the child field and even maternity (!!!!!!!!), we also get the experience of working in forensic settings, residential and community settings, specialist services, and even charitable organisations. That is one of the real perks of LD nursing – the wide variety of settings that you could find yourself working in. I would say however that you should approach each placement with an open mind. You may hear off another student negative comments regarding a certain placement, yet you may love it – we all experience things differently. Also, some people may not enjoy certain placements, for example, forensic settings but others will really enjoy them. I have to admit, I was really dreading my forensic placement this year but it ended up being one of my favourite placements to date.
If I was to give a new student any advice about starting a new placement it would be to smile, endear yourself to people, to gently find your footings within a team and to make yourself useful – give a little and get a little. It is important to remember that the people mentoring you will have other responsibilities, and as a student, you may not always be their top priority. Be proactive, use your common sense and don’t be afraid to ask questions if there is something you don’t understand. Most importantly – grasp the opportunities that are offered to you, and don’t be afraid to create your own learning pathways if you see an opportunity.
Experiences of the PAD Document.
Over the next three years, you may well have an up and down relationship with your PAD (Practice Assessment Document). Your PAD is where your performance in practice is assessed and it is written in line with the minimum standards set out by the NMC. The document is not so much of a document, but rather as the name suggests a pad. Within the pages of the PAD, there are many competencies that are assessed by your mentor and other health professionals while you are out in the field. These competencies are wide-ranging and will not only cover clinical skills but also other essential skills such as communication, health promotion and practicing in a person-centered manner (to name but a few!!) I need to point out before I go any further that your PAD is an extremely important assessment document and it should be guarded with your life – I really cannot even imagine what it must be like to lose it!!!
A few thoughts:
- The PAD sets out the MINIMUM standards required, but this does not mean that other skills that may not be included in your PAD are not important. Learn what you can when you can and from who you can. Do not let your PAD restrict your learning experience.
- The PAD is generic and (in my opinion) is geared predominantly to ‘adult field’ nurses. This means that as Student Learning Disability Nurses we may need to be a little more creative in getting certain skills signed off – simulation, written pieces and discussions with your mentor are all perfectly acceptable (although not ideal) ways of achieving competencies.
- If there are certain elements of nursing (LD or other) that you want to experience first hand but are not in a position to, then speak to your mentor and/or your personal tutor to see if a short placement may be facilitated somewhere where the experience could be achieved. Also, do not be afraid to create your own pathways. During my second-year, I highlighted two specific areas that I wanted to experience first hand, so I spoke to contacts I had met during practice (developing a good network of contacts is really helpful) and arranged my own pathways which were agreed by my mentor and my University.
Firstly, I need to point out that as Student Nurses we need to be very careful with using social media (yes, even on our own personal profiles), and it’s important that we abide by our University’s and the NMC guidelines on its use. It is important to remember that whatever we post not only reflects upon us personally but also our profession and misuse or inappropriate posts could ultimately lead to us being removed from our course.
Now that is out of the way I would also like to highlight how useful it can be and what a great tool it can be for developing knowledge and building that all-important network of people.
Personal Networks: I still use my personal Facebook account which I use like everybody else does – I post pictures of my family, my children, my cat, my days out and occasionally (if it’s really good), my dinner. I am very careful however and have set my security settings quite high: I don’t use my surname (for safety as well as security reasons), I don’t allow people to post on my timeline without reviewing what is being posted, and I make sure that I do not post anything that could be construed as offensive or provocative. This may seem a little bit over the top, but it is important to remember that as nurses of the future – what we say, what we do, and what we promote in our daily lives reflects on us not only individually but also on our profession. It’s always best to think before you post.
University Networks: In my opinion, the best support you can get throughout your degree is from your peers. The other people on your course will be working on the same assessments, working in similar placements and experiencing the same highs and lows that you are. Setting up ‘closed groups’ for your cohort on social media sites like Facebook, and using mobile apps such as WhatsApp are valuable ways of keeping in touch, sharing information and providing support. Just remember (yet again) to adhere to the NMC social media guidelines.
Professional Networks: To be honest this is an area that is quite new to me but over the last year I have really experienced the benefits that developing a varied professional network can provide. I have found Twitter especially useful for this purpose and by using it I was quickly able to develop a network of experienced and innovative people active in the LD field, and also health professionals from other fields who can offer equally valuable knowledge and experience. Being involved in networks like this is a two-way process; not only is it useful for keeping up to date with current and developing issues within all areas of healthcare, it is also a good way of promoting our field, and raising the profile of, and highlighting the needs of the people we support. Getting involved in chats facilitated by WeCommunities groups such as WeLDNurses, WeNurses, and WeStudentNurses is a great way of increasing your knowledge, sharing your experiences and also building up that all-important professional network.
I have found it beneficial to keep my personal and professional networks separate (Personally, I use Facebook for general use and Twitter for professional) as my personal contacts may have no interest in nursing posts, and my professional contacts may not be interested in seeing pictures of the giant Yorkshire Puddings that I have just cooked.
Final Thoughts. . .
As I pointed out right at the start, all of the observations that I have shared in this blog are based solely on my own experiences and you may experience everything very differently, but all I will say is that during the course you will almost certainly have ‘downs’ as well as ‘ups’ (nothing really worth doing is going to be easy). The key is to not dwell too much on any disappointments and to keep the positives at the forefront of your mind, dust yourself down and keep on going. We are all very different and have very different lives, but I do need to say that the course just flies by – make the most of your time (enjoy it!), take the opportunities you are offered and don’t be satisfied with doing ‘just enough’ – you are going to be an LD nurse and doing ‘just enough’ is never going to be good enough for you or for the people you are going to support.
If you need to know anything else why not add me on Twitter @IanUnitt and ask away. You will also be making a start to building that all-important professional network that I mentioned earlier in the blog 😉
Atherton, H.L. and Crickmore, D.J. (2011) Learning Disabilities Toward Inclusion. 6th ed. London: Churchill Livingstone.
Cottrell, S. (2013) The Study Skills Handbook. 4th ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gates, B., Fearns, D. and Welch, J. (2015) Learning Disability Nursing at a Glance. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.
Gates, B. and Mafuba, K. (2015) Learning Disability Nursing: Modern Day Practice. London: CRC Press.
Grant, G., Ramcharan, P., Flynn, M. and Richardson, M. (2010) Learning Disability A Life Cycle Approach. 2nd ed. London: McGraw-Hill Education.
Some Important Papers.
Please feel free to add books or papers to this list via the comments. I would also be interested to hear of the experiences of other LD Nursing students regarding any matters I have highlighted.
Thank you for reading,