Clinical placements

A truly inspirational placement taught me about compassion and a love for life

I witnessed the kind of dedication I want to emulate in my own nursing career

I witnessed the kind of dedicated care I want to carry into my own nursing career

Activities such as dance can be as good for care staff as they are for service users. Picture: Alamy

In nursing, we often reflect on how we help people change their lives for the better. But sometimes we are the ones inspired by those in our care to reflect on and change our own lives.

My most recent placement was based in the third sector, working with an organisation that assists individuals living with dementia. It only lasted a week, but during that short spell I was re-energised and encouraged, learning lessons that will last me a lifetime.

The team was made up of a mixture of professionals and I was privileged to join their ranks. During the week, I was given a whistle-stop tour of the range of services they provide, getting a glimpse into their incredible work.

A vibrant environment

I was plied with tea and cake at dementia cafes, taught the benefits of art therapy and discovered what a delight a sing-song and a dance can be, for staff as well as service users. I think I have even developed a bit of a green thumb after helping to weed an allotment.

By attending home visits, I saw how people with dementia can live independently for longer with the help of community support, family, and technology, and joining service users at mealtimes highlighted the key social aspects of our lunches and dinners. 

‘Staff channelled their anger at ‘the system’ into advocating for service users at every opportunity’

Through this placement, I learned how support to live with dementia can mean everything. Each day I witnessed the hard work of volunteers and saw first-hand how dedicated staff fought to win victories for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.

Although that brought anger at ‘the system’ and the bureaucracy that must be overcome to get people the support they need, staff channelled that anger into advocating for service users at every opportunity, something I hope to carry with me into my own practice as a nurse.

I met countless people, staff and service users, who were passionate about the services. The atmosphere was so positive, it was infectious; I kept a reflective diary for each day and struggled to find words strong enough to describe how empowered I felt.

The experience was uplifting, which surprised me

What surprised me most during the placement were my own misconceptions. Personal and professional experience has shown me that dementia can be a cruel illness, often challenging for patients and their families, so I had expected my week to be a difficult one emotionally. Instead, I found it incredibly uplifting. I learned how to support people to live fulfilling lives through illness, be it dementia or any other condition.

It therefore seems funny that, in such a joyful week, what I found most profound was on a more solemn note. On my last day, I joined a group of women on a nature walk. It was a great day, filled with laughter and fun, but as it came to a close the women began to reflect on their prognosis.

‘One of the women made a comment that has stuck with me and that I will carry with me always’

None were over the age of 65, and each should have had years still in front of them. Instead, not one of them was predicted to survive more than a decade.

In spite of this, each of the women had resolved to live life to the fullest. They were being supported by the organisation I was placed with to fulfil their potential, doing things the rest of us take for granted but that helped them retain a sense of normality.

As we got in the car to head back to base, one of the women made a comment that has stuck with me and that I will carry with me always.

‘You’ve just got to get on with it. Life’s for living, make the most of it’.

Isn’t that a lesson we could all do with learning?

Grant Byrne is a third-year nursing student at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

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