Empowering nursing students to become more politically engaged
Many students may not realise how politics affects day to day nursing. The RCN students committee’s parliamentary workshop aims to change that
It is certainly not breaking news that the nursing profession is facing many challenges, with a shortage of about 40,000 nurses in England and continued cuts to training bursaries, grants and resources.
Applications to nursing courses in England have also fallen drastically since the bursary was scrapped, with recent figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service showing numbers down by one third since 2016.
Politics and policy affect all areas of nursing, but many nurses and nursing students do not realise how closely the two are linked. In the current climate, it is more vital than ever that nurses become more politically active and aware.
This was the backdrop to an RCN student committee parliamentary learning event and workshop, which aimed to inspire and encourage student leaders to become more politically engaged.
The event, held at RCN headquarters in London in April, was the first of its kind organised for student leaders and RCN student information officers (SIOs), with five to six SIOs from each country and region receiving funding to attend.
It focused on how parliament works, the difference between parliament and government, and the role of MPs and lords. The RCN public affairs team outlined the college’s approach to political engagement and collaborated with students in a workshop on how to be active in meeting and influencing your MP.
Advocating for our patients
Being politically engaged enables us to be better advocates for our patients and for social justice, a core value of the nursing profession.
As a student member of RCN council and chair of the students committee, I feel strongly that as many students as possible should engage with politics at the start of their nursing journey.
I was fortunate enough to gain a place on the first ever UK parliament student leaders event last summer. After completing the programme – developed to help students in all fields step forward as future political leaders – I wanted to share what I had learned with as many nurses as possible.
The RCN students committee was also keen to apply this learning, so I worked closely with UK parliament's senior student engagement officer Sky Yarlett and Jon Considine from the RCN public affairs team to create a programme that students can use as a toolkit when campaigning on nursing issues.
All students who took part in our event received a ‘take action’ pack from the UK parliament team and an RCN toolkit, enabling them to share information and begin their journey as nursing activists.
Feedback from students reinforced the success of the event; one student said it had empowered her to make a change and contact her local MP.
The students committee plans to host more events like this, and we are already putting what we learned in the workshop to good use – SIOs from each region are going to Westminster on 2 May to make the case to MPs about why nursing students need bespoke financial support.
When I started my nurse training, I had no real political knowledge – I knew who the prime minister was, but that was about it. After becoming an active student member of the RCN, I have quickly learned the importance of politics in nursing.
Continual support from the RCN to develop the skills and knowledge to become an effective nursing activist has enabled me to engage with and support campaigns that matter to our profession, such as #bursaryorbust and Scrap the Cap.
All nurses and nursing students can find out more about becoming politically engaged; the RCN public affairs team has a wealth of knowledge and is a great source of support, and it is never too late to learn something new.
Ensuring the voice of nursing is heard is essential to improve healthcare for patients and well-being for staff.
Student feedback from the event
- ‘Discussion on parliament was very informative. It gave me more confidence and knowledge to speak to MPs and a better understanding of the pay deal’
- ‘My knowledge regarding parliament has increased and I feel empowered to be able to approach and engage with my MP’
- ‘Excellent topics covered. All speakers very confident and informed. My first event and I loved it, everyone was so friendly and approachable’
Charlotte Hall is a staff nurse at Gloucestershire Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, a student member of RCN council and chair of the RCN UK students committee