Reasons to become a learning disability nurse

I started my nursing career in learning disability more than 35 years ago. I had been working in the construction industry after leaving school and fancied a change from spending days getting frostbite on building sites. My sister, who was working in the local learning disability hospital, said they needed more male nurses to deal with some challenging patients. I have never looked back and have had a wonderful career. Ironically, the only challenging people I have encountered are staff and the general public.

There are three things I have learned about myself and from people with learning disabilities.

First, it's important not only to listen to what people say but to act on it. I recall a resident once giving me a tip for the Grand National one year and he was sure Red Rum would win. He was so convinced, he walked across Cardiff dressed only in white underpants and slippers to place a bet in his favourite bookmakers. I had to collect him – and his £1,000 winnings – and heard about his success, and my lack of faith for the next ten years.

Second, people with learning disabilities can show remarkable resilience in the face of adversity. I have worked with so many people who have suffered horrendous abuse. In spite of this they have often remained optimistic, honest and trusting. I believe we can learn a great deal from people with learning disabilities, especially about how to conduct ourselves.

Finally, I was never quite sure if I had a positive value base in relation to people with learning disabilities and I could never truly be sure how I would feel or react if I had a child with additional needs. Well, about four and a half years ago I had a difficult conversation with my daughter about the possibility that her son – my grandchild – might be different from other children. We both cried because deep down we knew. Yes, he is different and unique, as all children are. However, he has taught me so much more about myself and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). He has challenged so much of my previous understanding of the condition.

And I now appreciate more fully the trials and tribulations of being a grandparent. My grandson is coming on leaps and bounds thanks to progressive education, health professionals and the support of so many people. Do I feel I have a positive value base after being a learning disability nurse for so long? You bet I do as we fight to have him as much as we can. He is our inspiration and we love him to bits. The only tears now are those of joy.

So if you want to work with families, develop a positive value base, inspire and empower others, engage in continual self-reflection and want to make a contribution to the lives of people with learning disabilities, then why not consider a career as a learning disability nurse?

About the author

Dr. Robert JenkinsDr Robert Jenkins is academic lead for learning disability nursing at the University of South Wales. The university offers pre and post-registration nursing courses in learning disability nursing, including the BSc (Hons) community health studies (learning disabilities nursing) and the MSc professional practice (learning disability).