Nursing studies

Notes from congress, and how one voice can sway a profession

Nursing student Victoria Spires reflects on what she learned at RCN congress – including how one person speaking in a debate can influence a whole profession

Nursing student Victoria Spires reflects on what she learned at RCN congress – including how one person speaking in a debate can influence a whole profession

Nursing students in blue T-shirts gather at the congress venue to mark 50 years
of student membership of the RCN. Picture: John Houlihan

RCN Congress is the largest nursing event in the UK. With debates on a variety of nursing and healthcare issues, fringe events and an exhibition, it is a great opportunity for nurses and nursing students to network and learn from each other.

Congress 2018, held in Belfast from 12 to 16 May, was special for nursing students as it represented 50 years of student membership of the RCN. 

This was my second time at congress – last year I attended as a voting member, which was a bit intimidating as a first-year student. I felt a bit like an imposter in this massive organisation, but it wasn’t long before I started to enjoy myself and even spoke in one of the debates, a scary but fantastic experience.  

This year I went on my own, but soon met other students who were easily identifiable by their bright blue student T-shirts. As a non-voting member this time I was free to decide which fringe events and debates I wanted to attend. 

This year’s debates ranged from recruitment and retention and redeployment of staff, to the potential role of robots in health and social care and the decriminalisation of cannabis for medicinal use. 

The debate on hydration was of particular interest to me as I am collecting information for an assignment on this subject. 

As well as gaining insights from the debates, I had many discussions with other nurses and students, which helped me to realise that assignment information doesn’t always come from books or journals, and that policies and procedures are not always created in boardrooms.

I also took part in learning events organised by the RCN student committee, including a session on how to better understand the needs of people with learning disabilities. A theatre performance about one young man’s experience of the NHS helped me to see things from the point of view of someone with a learning disability, and the importance of using appropriate language. 

The performance was powerful and the audience could ask questions and help shape the narrative, enabling us to explore our feelings and thoughts. 

As an adult nursing student, I haven’t had a lot of experience working with people with learning disabilities, but this inspired me to learn more. I also tweeted information from the session to other students back at university, which was a great way of getting others involved. 

The student programme also included a session on issues related to organ donation, such as enablers and barriers and the role of the specialist nurse, and one of the debates concerned ways to improve suicide awareness within nursing practice. 

These can be difficult issues to address, especially for nursing students, but I gained a huge amount of knowledge and confidence from attending these sessions which will help improve my practice. Importantly, I learned it is ‘okay to ask’, even when having hard conversations. 

Even though I could only stay in Belfast for two days I was able to take part in the rest of congress from home by watching the live feeds and tweeting along with the conversations.

Attending congress has given me a huge confidence boost. It has reinforced the knowledge that one student with an idea can make a difference, and that one person talking at a debate can influence and lead the direction of a whole profession. 

I would encourage every nurse and nursing student to attend RCN congress, even just once. The value of the debates and learning events is immeasurable and I have gained so much, both personally and professionally.

Victoria Spires is a second-year adult nursing student at the University of Nottingham

Acknowledgement: The author wishes to thank the University of Nottingham experiential learning fund for giving her the opportunity to attend RCN congress 2018.



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