Unlike most branches of nursing, people with learning disabilities are not sick, neither are they in need of treatment to get well. They are just very wonderful and brave people like you and I making the best of their lives despite the physical or intellectual challenges they may have.
It is fair to say that as a result, people with learning disabilities can be found within all walks of life. As a Learning Disability Nursing student, I am certainly kept busy.
Monday – lectures and seminars
Within a typical week I do many things, but of course I have lectures throughout the week. These are always a relaxed opportunity to learn from very experienced staff. The sessions can vary in terms of structure, content and length. They comprise mainly seminar style sessions where lecturers deliver presentations that educate us about the theoretical underpinnings required for effective practice.
It is also always fun at the University and interact with other members of the cohort. They are a lively bunch of people who spice up the classes with discussions and laughter! Lectures provide the chance for us to share our experiences and interact amongst one another during sessions in a respectful way. This cross-pollination of ideas gives us the chance to expand our learning by gaining from other people’s experiences.
During lectures, we are able to provide feedback about aspects of theory that are difficult to implement within the different settings we find ourselves during placements. The lecturers in turn use their knowledge and experiences to support us by providing us with helpful strategies to help us improve.
Tuesday – simulation exercises and life-saving skills
The University of Northampton has simulation suites where we are taught the hands-on, practical aspects of nursing. For example, we learn how to give injections and perform basic life support for adults and children using dummies. We are also taught how to carry out observations like temperature, blood pressure and check heart rates.
I find these sessions extremely useful because they provide me with the chance to practice these essential skills safely. The idea of learning and practicing with dummies feels less unnerving. I would not possibly have acquired the skills by performing them first on human beings rather than dummies because of the trial and error element that can occur when acquiring new skills.
Wednesday & Thursday – placements
The most interesting part of the week comes during the placement. Learning disability nursing students have the privilege of being placed within very varied settings. The nature of each setting depends on where the needs of people with learning disabilities are being met. Today, I found myself sitting in the park accompanying clients alongside members of staff. And guess what we were doing? Soaking up the sunshine after another intense but rewarding day!
Earlier on, I had supported the clients with their personal care as well as their nutritional and medication needs. Within the activities involved in meeting these different needs, came the chance to learn from experienced staff and to practice performing them to the high standards I was taught at university based on the regulatory expectations.
Friday – developing communications skills
The hard work of personalising the care I provide based on the patient’s wishes takes a lot of psychological input. Listening to and communicating with clients are both exhausting and rewarding exercises. However, nothing beats getting it just as right as the client desires.
These are skills that come with the practice and exposure of being within a setting, because they cannot be simulated. Luckily, the theoretical skills provided during today’s University session keeps my communication toolbox well equipped.
On different days, I perform different roles within my placement. This is in addition to the ones I mentioned earlier and may involve accompanying clients to appointments, keeping them entertained and supporting clients to perform activities that are important to them.
The good news is that within the placement area, I am assigned a mentor who supports and structures my learning experience. There is also a University-linked tutor who visits the practice periodically to direct my learning and make sure all is going well. My personal academic tutor is also on hand to provide guidance. As a result I feel well supported and never pressured.
The weekend – time for some ‘R & R’
Finally, my days off have become all the more precious now because of my busy schedule. I end my week relaxing with family and friends. I learnt about the value of time management, rest and reward during a session organised by the learning and development team at the University.
As much as the pressures of family life and endless responsibilities weigh heavily on me as a mature student, ensuring that I strike the right balance means that I am able to fully recharge myself physically, mentally and psychologically. I enjoy watching movies, listening to music and dancing in my spare time. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!
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