On the first Mental Health's Nurses' Day and at a time when the health service faces significant change, Alice Lloyd, student mental health nurse, describes how the changing policy landscape affects those embarking on a career in the NHS.
My journey as a student nurse has been the most challenging but rewarding experience of my life so far. It is also an exciting time to be coming into the mental health sector; despite lots of uncertainty there is vision for the positive change that mental health services are so in need of. This is why I thought a visit to the NHS Confederation would be an amazing learning opportunity to get clued up on how policies have a direct influence on us out on the front line of care.
I can pinpoint the exact moment it became clear to me that I had chosen the right vocation: it was my first week of my first inpatient placement and a patient needed her monthly depot injection. The only two people free to give the injection on the ward were myself or my mentor. This particular patient had paranoid schizophrenia, was distressed and believed my mentor was head of the FBI. She was insisting that I administer her depot. Having not administered an injection on a real person before, I was naturally apprehensive, but I conquered my initial fear and administered the depot. At this moment I realised nursing was the profession for me. Getting to be alongside a person at their most vulnerable time and being that one familiar face to offer support and care, is what drives me to be the best nurse I can be.
Being a student nurse has its challenges, the most obvious being the financial struggle. It is a continual struggle to even pay for the basics of travel expenses, accommodation and food. As a result, it is not unusual (in fact, it is the norm) for student nurses to work alongside their degree. Students commit to working the full hours of a qualified nurse while completing academic study, along with the added pressure of working a second job unrelated to university. The removal of the bursary makes the financial burden all the more apparent and is a fine example of how government policy decisions directly impact us as NHS staff. Whether this be increased staffing pressures due to lack of applicants or the direct financial impact on student nurses themselves.
Along with the financial challenges there are long hours spent in wards, travel costs, hours spent commuting, assignments, reflections, exams. It is not easy being a student nurse when it feels like all the odds are against you. However, it’s the patients I care for that make it all worthwhile. The essential care you deliver (medication, personal hygiene, physical observations, talking therapies… the list goes on) is only one aspect of nursing. It’s the little moments with patients between these times that makes nursing so special. It is the time I spent sitting on the bathroom floor with a patient at 2am while she was having a psychotic episode, just to keep her company. It is the time I spent sitting on a patient’s bed, plaiting her hair in the morning because she was hypomanic and did not have the concentration to do it for herself. It is the time I spent chatting with a patient while they were having a bath because they were too anxious to be left in the bathroom on their own. It’s these little moments that make nursing a profession like no other.
As student nurses/nurses, our patients are at the centre of the care we deliver. Therefore, I now realise that having a workforce that is informed about current affairs and policies is so important.
An example is the NHS Long Term Plan which has the potential to affect a lot of our nursing practice, including the way nurses are trained and the structure that health and care systems run. It is in our own and our patients’ interest that we keep up to date, as we are the people implementing these new policies and changes which affect the patients in our care.
Nursing is an immensely unique and magical career and I’ve learnt that getting involved with influencing future policies is an integral part of keeping the authenticity of the profession. Being able to have your voice heard as students or clinicians who are working in the NHS every day is vital. I’ve learnt that organisations such as the NHS Confederation can give you this opportunity and can be our voice in the wider issues and policies that staff face. I am not certain where nursing will take me in the future, but I am certain that whatever field I am working in, I want to make my patients’ voices heard.
Alice Lloyd is a second-year student nurse, currently studying mental health nursing at Plymouth University.