At the RCN Education Forum Conference, Bristol 2019

Working on a small campus such as London means that attending conferences is one excellent opportunity to find out what makes other Universities and Departments tick.

This year I was fortunate enough to attend the Leadership in Nursing Education: Facing Challenges, Creating Opportunities RCN Education Forum National 12-13 March 2019 Bristol

Conferences can be over congested at times with too many speakers and a lack of time for effective networking. This conference gave plenty of time for comments and questions after each talk and workshop. It would have been useful though to repeat some offered workshops as some were very popular. Room only held thirty people. The theme of leadership in nursing and how this can be acted on in nurse education was the topic for this conference.

Dame Jackie Daniel is the Chief Executive of Newcastle, who previously led a failing trust at Morecambe Bay, transforming it to a successful one. She was very enthusiastic about the role she assumed and having an open door policy. Another inspiring talk was from Laura Serrant a Professor of Nursing from Manchester Metropolitan who talked about combatting racism and ensuring diversity.

The most useful talk I attended was from the West of England University Vice-Chancellor Steve West who has worked to ensure that mental illness amongst students is acted on very promptly.  He explained how in the last few years there has been an increase in depression and anxiety in people under 25. He attributed this increase in the last ten years to financial worries due to student debt, too much time on social media, and changes in the schools’ curriculum. The last in part to do with schools having to top local league tables, resulting in pupils feeling very stressed to achieve top marks in exams and course work. This has a negative effect on the mental well-being of UK’s Adolescents. Steven West cited Scandinavian countries as providing a more wholesome education for children. Professor West explained the changes in the last two years that have taken place at the University of the West of England, to ensure that students do not feel isolated, and suffer from mental health. These include having a 24-hour phone number and an anonymous email system to encourage parents and staff to alert the counselling team of any concerns about students. Mental health training has taken place for many staff throughout the university. Counselling sessions have changed to include some drop-in sessions as well as an appointment system. He also said that the university is keen to have a more diverse set of counsellors. He did stress that more work is needed nationally to ensure young people are less affected by depression and anxiety.

A key theme emerging in the conference was how few men there are in both in adult and mental health nursing across the UK. It is only 10%, of all nurses that are male. Lecturers from Scotland and Wales have been exploring the experiences of male nurses to find out why it is not more attractive. Dr James Taylor from UWS has been researching along with colleagues from other universities in Scotland the perceptions of and on, men who enter nurse education programmes.  He found that there is a common perception that the job of nursing is not for men. Men who did train as nurses had been encouraged by family or friends often had a role model which helped them to consider nursing as a career. A number of the same points were echoed by the Ingrid Pritchard a lecturer from Swansea University. In her study, some discrimination of male nursing students was reported. One student had been groped by a female patient and felt it was difficult to discuss this with the staff. The research suggested that there are many stereotypes that prevail both amongst the public and female nurses in the UK, which affect attitudes held about male nursing students. What has been found is that both British female nurses and the British public are not aware of their attitudes to men becoming nurses. It would appear there is still a macho expectation which prevents many men from becoming nurses. This is very different from other professions such as engineering and medicine where the gender balance is already changing.

Other interesting talks included a study from Canterbury Christ University by Andrew Southgate whose students developed cultural through an opportunity to spend time in Japan, to learn about the nursing and health care system there.  This changed some of the student’s attitudes.

The question of how students become professionals has been explored by Andrew Sargent from Kings College University, who found that many students had not been encouraged by their families to do nursing. Some of the students found it strange that their lecturers made the comment early in their training that they as ‘students’ are change makers. The students did question this and wanted to ask what is wrong with nursing? Why are you saying that the profession is full of problems? A valid question which suggests that nurse leaders are not so confident in their profession and have great expectations of the students. The students made a number of valid points about improving the training and the transition to becoming a nurse. The students were quite critical about the 6Cs, and wondered why these needed to be stated.

Another talk from City University’s Julie Attenborough was about the use of clinical storytelling and how this is helpful in teaching. She discussed that this can be seen as invisible learning as the stories are often added in by lecturers. The university has embedded some stories in the learning units as there has been such a positive response to the value of stories in learning to nurse. Some lecturers were reluctant to use stories in their teaching. This theme of storytelling was also discussed by Julia Petty from Hertfordshire who uses digital storytelling.

Other themes were about student retention, resilience, and how to use social media to promote nursing, and understanding why newly qualified nurses get referred to the nursing council.

The conference also shared a number of important points about what is the right order to teach nurse concepts.

An exhibition of posters gave more universities and trusts the opportunity to show how they educate their staff and students. The poster winner was from Wolverhampton University and illustrated how student nurses could manage a number of scenarios they will encounter as a staff nurse; including managing complaints, controlled drugs, breaking bad news, mentoring students, escalating concerns, blood administration, sepsis were some of the scenarios the students do in groups as a game. This exercise had been well received by the students as a means of bringing theories to practice.

From Alexandra Murrell (Lecturer in Health Studies at UWS London Campus.