The Europe-wide bonds that boost nursing students’ leadership potential

How membership of the Florence Network enriches preregistration programmes

How membership of the Florence Network enriches preregistration programmes

  • Europe-wide nursing relationships will continue, whether Brexit happens or not, insists nurse academic
  • International nursing network offers students the chance to deepen their insights with European placements
  • The chance to look outside the UK allows nursing students to understand differing approaches to healthcare issues

Picture: iStock

While the UK’s future relationship with the rest of Europe remains uncertain, a pan-European network is ensuring the nursing profession continues to nurture its continental links.

‘In these turbulent political times, when we hear a lot about division, the family of nursing out-ranks everything,’ says Northampton University subject lead for nursing Donna Bray.

‘European nurses are connecting with each other for the good of patients and the education of nurses, working productively together,’ she says. ‘We’ll carry on doing that, whatever happens. It’s critical that nurses speak up and talk about the value of these relationships.’ 

Northampton was invited to join the Florence Network – a 40-strong grouping of European university nursing and midwifery departments (see box) – in 2016, thanks to its well established and highly successful European exchange programmes, particularly with Denmark and Finland.

‘Those students who get to go abroad bring back new confidence and knowledge. It’s given them the opportunity to appreciate issues such as dementia occur everywhere, so they can discuss different approaches’

Donna Bray, subject lead for nursing, University of Northampton

These schemes offer second-year nursing students the opportunity of a 12-week placement abroad, where they are assessed in practice in the same way as they would be at home.

‘It’s a brilliant programme that’s taken a bit of work, but it’s worth it,’ says Ms Bray, who believes the option to apply to do a module in Europe is a selling point in persuading students to choose her university’s adult nursing degree.

‘Students want something more – they want to be stretched and developed and European placements are a good way of doing that,’ she says. ‘Those who get to go abroad bring back new confidence and knowledge. Key to the Florence message is your ability to network and form these strong alliances. Being invited to join the network was real kudos for us.’

Where international collaboration generates solutions to common problems

The Florence Network is made up of 46 higher educational institutions from 21 European countries, including the UK. Established 27 years ago, it is one of Europe’s oldest nursing and midwifery groupings.

Picture: iStock

Florence Network president Susan Schaerli-Lim says: ‘I would call it a community of learning, sharing and caring for European higher education nurses and midwives. International collaboration is really important. Through it we find creative solutions for similar problems.’

The network’s main goals include:

  • Raising the profile of European nursing and midwifery
  • Stimulating and organising the exchange of both students and lecturers between Florence Network members
  • Contributing to the quality development of European nursing and midwifery curricula
  • Identifying common nursing and midwifery research interests and developing research collaboration

The Florence Network


A chance for students to display leadership  

The Florence Network holds an annual conference, which was hosted this year by Coventry University, the only other English member. The conference took place over four days in April and was attended by almost 130 delegates, whose itinerary included a visit to Northampton’s new Waterside campus.

Donna Bray, subject lead for nursing
at University of Northampton.

‘Our student ambassadors in nursing and midwifery did a lot of the work,’ says Ms Bray. ‘They were a real asset, with many telling me how confident and engaged they were. For our second and third-year students in particular, it’s helped to develop their leadership skills.

‘It’s given them the opportunity to appreciate that healthcare operates across borders, with issues such as dementia occurring everywhere, so they can discuss different approaches,’ she adds.

With around 900 nursing students, the university’s new nursing curriculum was another popular talking point. ‘They were discussing how nursing is becoming much more advanced and the higher level of clinical skills they are being taught here – and whether that’s the same across Europe,’ says Ms Bray.

‘What we’re seeing is students developing advanced skills in their third year, so they’re ready for complex care. That’s being mirrored in other countries.’

Conference talking points

Projects looking at male midwives and nurses were also especially interesting to the group, says Ms Bray. ‘We know there’s a gender imbalance, so they were keen to hear about our approach,’ she says.

‘We also had a workshop on 100 years of learning disability nursing. It’s under threat, but here we’ve always been able to recruit to the course so delegates wanted to hear more about what we do.’ 

‘Nursing and midwifery are not just professions but a global movement, with similarity and difference’

Richard Luck, associate head of international, Coventry University school of nursing, midwifery and health

Other topics addressed by the conference included artificial intelligence and simulation in education, the well-being of migrants and innovations in teenage cancer care.

Looking ahead, generating opportunities for more short-term exchanges is high on the network’s agenda. It is also keen to encourage more research. ‘So far, we’ve only had two publications from research,’ says network president Susan Schaerli-Lim, who is based at Zurich University in Switzerland.

Last year, the Florence Network created a research group and is hoping to bring several institutions together with similar interests, using European Union funding to begin research.

Brexit needn’t be a barrier to collaboration

Will Brexit have an adverse effect on the UK’s contributions? ‘It’s very difficult to say what the impact will be,’ admits Ms Schaerli-Lim. ‘I come from Switzerland and after a vote about mass immigration several years ago, we were politely told to leave the Erasmus and Horizon [student] programmes.’

Susan Schaerli-Lim, president of the
Florence Network.

Subsequently, the Swiss government redirected money to its own similar programme. ‘I’m hoping the British will find a similar solution,’ she says.

Richard Luck, associate head of international at Coventry University’s school of nursing, midwifery and health, agrees. ‘From a network perspective, this is an organisation that thrives on unity,’ he says. ‘It doesn’t have the political barriers of the dreaded ‘B’ word.’

While he acknowledges there will be changes ahead for all members, there is determination to work together to demonstrate the network’s collegiate nature. ‘Nursing and midwifery are not just professions but a global movement, with similarity and difference,’ he says.

‘It’s crucial that we ensure students are professionally ready to practise and have a broad knowledge of global research and developments.’

Enhanced employability

For students, there are myriad benefits to taking part, including developing their communication, networking, clinical and theoretical knowledge, alongside intercultural skills, which can be adapted to work with local diverse communities. ‘We see students grow in terms of their personal and professional skills through these types of activities,’ Mr Luck says.

It may also make all the difference when the time comes to seek employment, says Mr Luck. ‘I recall one student I spoke to at graduation, who told me that at an interview for a qualified post, the employer put down the interview documents and asked her to tell them about her international field trip, and how she felt it enhanced her studies.

‘The student was convinced one of the reasons for her success was her broad experience of international activities across three years.’ 

Lynne Pearce is a health journalist

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