Level of study: Part 3
University: Middlesex University
Programme: PGDip in Mental Health Nursing
Host Trust: Barnet, Enfield & Haringey
At the time of writing this, I am a final year student on PGDip in Mental Health Nursing, studying at Middlesex University. I have been able to take part in NCL Expansive Learning multiple times during my practice placement.
I want to talk a little bit about why this has been invaluable for me as an individual and student nurse.
My story is a little different from what people would perceive as ‘the norm’ for a student nurse, I have much of the same anxiety and stress as my peers; from academic work, to practice placements, interviews and then finding a way to seamlessly pull it all together and qualify a fully-fledged Newly Qualified Nurse.
Where my story may differ for some is that I am also living with Crohn’s Disease, which is a chronic health condition that can be extremely debilitating, especially during what we call a ‘flare-up’.
I had wanted to train to be a nurse right after finishing my first degree in 2014, I studied music and during this time and for a few years after I was suffering from various health issues that were yet to be diagnosed. In 2018 after finally being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and undertaking treatment for 3 years, I finally felt ready to take on nursing. My training journey to become a Mental Health Nurse began in 2021.
Being a student nurse and managing a chronic illness is challenging
Navigating university as a mature student with a chronic illness is difficult, this is especially true for the practice placement element of the course. Because my condition fluctuates, in a matter of weeks I can switch from feeling extremely capable and confident, to being unable to get out of bed due to fatigue, pain, nausea, and sometimes side effects of essential medicine I must use.
In a Crohn’s Disease flare my mental health also suffers, the worry that I will fall behind in my studies or deskill in my practice whilst unwell, adds extra pressure for me and then lowers my confidence.
The NCL Expansive Learning aspect of my practice placements has been key for allowing me space to rebuild my confidence for those periods where it has slipped.
When I first began my course, I was very reluctant to share my thoughts and ideas in placement, in Expansive Learning the sessions are collaborative in nature allowing me to develop and understand the idea that nursing is collaborative, be that with my peers, healthcare colleagues and/or supporting patients. Expansive Learning has made me more confident in my own knowledge and competence, it’s also given me space to realise that despite living with a chronic illness, I still have control over many other aspects of my nursing studies.
When my illness does flare up, my university and practice placement work with me to restructure and adapt so that I can continue to attend practice placement in some capacity, this can make it difficult for me to arrange spoke opportunities in another area as they may not have the support/reasonable adjustments in place for me, at that time.
Therefore, having exposure to subject matter experts (SMEs) during Expansive Learning experts gives me access to key team members of some of those spoke areas/services. This helps to expand my knowledge of specific areas of nursing and other healthcare roles that I may not have had contact with if there was no Expansive Learning experiences/programme.
For example, we had a session with a Specialist Bariatric Nurse Practitioner. In this session we discussed many aspects of this role from:
The chances of myself specifically meeting a Bariatric Nurse on placement would be quite slim, even more so it being in a capacity where I would be able to have a discussion and ask questions without time constraints.
Another example of learning from specialists, is meeting a research nurse during my expansive learning experience, which helped me understand the role of a research nurse, how they inform evidence-based practice and my role as a student nurse to advocate and contribute to research or evidence-based practice.
Many of my practice placements have been in areas where I am the only student, this can feel isolating and add to anxiety surrounding placement. Knowing that I have expansive learning as part of my placement was a comfort, it meant I knew there would be a protected space where I would be learning and reflecting with other students every week.
Beyond the benefits during a placement that expansive learning gave me, it also gives me a sense of excitement for when I am a Newly Qualified Nurse. As sessions are so varied students get a sense that there are endless opportunities in nursing. I would leave each session with a new idea of a path I felt I wanted to explore in my nursing career, and then a week later I would find a new inspiration in an Expansive Learning session.
Hopefully a few years in the future I will be able to come back and host my own Specialist Subject Matter Expert session with Students who are on their practice placement.