The importance of self-belief for learning disability nursing students

As a final year student nurse, the prospect of becoming a qualified nurse at the end of the year can feel daunting. Those recurring negativities that cross your mind; 'I don’t know anything,' 'I’m not ready.' As a student nurse, I am guilty of allowing these thoughts to enter my mind. But there comes a point where you say 'enough is enough, I can do this, and I will do this'.

People say that becoming a nurse is like learning to drive. You only really start to learn once you have passed the test. In a way, I agree with this. Having that NMC registration number allows us to put our classroom knowledge into practice without having to meet learning outcomes or worry about if we will get signed off at the end of it. But I believe the transition from student to qualified nurse has to begin as a student if we are to be prepared for working autonomously. After all, the time will come when I am a nursing student one day and a fully qualified staff nurse the next.

My transition started during my placement with the community learning disability nursing team. I was faced with a young man I will call James. James was referred to the team because his GP had concerns about his obesity and the considerable health problems he was experiencing. My mentor asked if I would like to take the leading role in supporting James, and I hesitated. Those negative thoughts started to creep in. 'What if I get it wrong?' 'What if I can’t do it?' 'Will my mentor think I’m incapable?'

But then I really started to think. 'What if I get it right?' 'What if I achieve something really positive?' 'Will my mentor be proud of me?' 'Will I be proud of myself?' So, I jumped in with both feet, and led the case. My transition had begun.

When I first met James, I got to know a little more about him, his past and what he would like to see happen in the future. One of the main issues he disclosed was that the GP and his support workers had told him that if he didn’t change his ways, he would have a heart attack. However, it soon became clear that James had no idea what a heart attack was. This struck a chord with me, as I felt so passionately that James, like anyone else, had the right to be fully informed about his health status. It appeared to me that James came across as very able, and that hid the fact that he had a learning disability: simply telling him he was going to have a heart attack was not enough to enable him to make informed and autonomous choices about his health.

I knew I had to do something to help James understand, but what? I tried to consolidate everything I had learned over the previous three years about person-centeredness, reasonable adjustments and Valuing People Now. I searched for accessible information, but I couldn’t find anything that was going to achieve my goal.

So I worked out a new technique of explaining the process of a heart attack in a way that was centred on James, and in a way that he could effectively engage with. I went home that evening, and searched my Dad’s trailer for some pipe and went to the supermarket and bought some lard and red food colouring. During our next meeting, I staged an interactive task with James, where we clogged a tube with lard and watched the red water get stuck in the tube, to represent how fat is stored in the arteries. We then repeated the steps without the lard, showing how the blood flows through the body with ease.

James enjoyed the task and was even keen to make a video to put on YouTube to teach others. We were not able to do that but what was so amazing was how making a reasonable adjustment to how he was taught about a heart attack made such a difference. And another thing that was amazing, was that I had a huge part in achieving it.

A week later, James attended our next appointment, excitedly explaining in detail the events of the previous session. This was such a proud moment for me, that my initiative and work had enabled someone to understand the link between an unhealthy lifestyle and having ill health, ultimately empowering James to make informed decisions about his own life.

From that moment, it became clear to me that I was developing into a learning disability nurse. That may sound strange, as I have been working towards this for three years. Surely I knew what the outcome would be? But from that session onward I started to believe in myself and my ability, and everything started to become a little clearer as the realisation that I am nearly a qualified nurse hit me.

Learning disability nursing is about people. Enabling the most vulnerable groups in our society to come together and be included and equal. The point of this blog is to show, that even as nursing students, we can achieve great things. From my experience, it is important that we remain positive, and stay true to who we are. We are learning disability nurses, and we should be proud of our skills and believe that we can achieve anything. So now, instead of thinking 'I can’t do it', I look back on my experiences as a student and say yes, I can.

Lindsay Anne DonickeyAbout the author

Lindsay Anne Donickey is a third year learning disablity nursing student at the University of Cumbria