Clinical placements

The compassionate care given in abortion clinics is what nursing is all about

Marie Stopes UK says placements can help nursing students understand non-judgemental care

Six-week Marie Stopes placements can help nursing students understand non-judgemental care

Picture: SPL

In September 2019, Marie Stopes UK welcomed its first cohort of adult nursing students for a six-week clinical placement at its west London centre.

This is the first time a placement has been available in an abortion clinic and the timing could not be better; new guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), published the same month, recommended that ‘trainee healthcare professionals and students who may care for women who request an abortion should have the chance to gain experience in abortion services during their training’.

Not only will this new initiative set a solid foundation for implementation of the new guidance – which recommends that abortion providers should maximise the role of nurses and midwives in delivering care – it also provides nurses with what could be their first experience of abortion care.

Abortion is not routinely included on the nursing curriculum

One in three women will have an abortion, making it the most common gynaecological procedure performed. But abortion does not routinely form part of the curriculum for nursing students.

If services are to be sustainable in the long-term, it is vital that more healthcare professionals are trained in this key area of women’s healthcare.

During the placement, the final-year adult nursing students from King’s College London attended training sessions which covered all areas of the clinic, from pre-assessments – which enabled students to develop skills in taking a medical history and building a rapport with clients – to early medical abortion, surgical termination of pregnancy, recovery and discharge.

Many areas of abortion care in our clinics are led by nurses. They are supported to plan client care and work autonomously, including taking informed consent and assessing mental capacity.

After attending a training session on informed consent, the students put their skills into practice on their next shift, working with nurses taking consent for surgical procedures. The students particularly enjoyed working with clients post-procedure, planning their discharge and discussing contraception.

Students learn about providing care for women with complex needs

By working with safeguarding leads and spending time with the medical triage and referrals team at Marie Stopes UK’s 24-hour national call centre – Right Care – they also gained an understanding of how to care for women with complex needs.

New research from Marie Stopes UK shows that more than two-thirds of UK women would not tell their family if they were considering an abortion, and our teams regularly care for women who are so anxious about what people will think of them that they haven’t told anyone what they are doing.

Picture: Alamy

It is therefore essential that the placement prioritised the importance of effective communication and compassionate, non-judgemental care. Undergoing an abortion can be a daunting experience and our nurses really help put women at ease, informing them about all their options and advocating for them at what can be a difficult time.

Students also had the opportunity to work in theatre with surgeons, anaesthetists and other members of the multidisciplinary team, who all work closely together to deliver the best possible care to our clients.

Initial clinical placements have been well received

We have been incredibly heartened by the response to the first placement, with women accessing services in the west London centre speaking very highly of the students involved in their care and who supported them during their treatment.

Many of the skills the students were taught on the placement are transferable and will benefit them throughout their nursing career. 

The next cohort from King’s College London started their four-week placement on January 13. Clinical practice placements are set to continue throughout the academic year, with a view to expanding the offer of places in 2020 to midwifery and mental health nursing students.

At Marie Stopes UK, the client always comes first. This is where nurses can really support people, and we are looking forward to welcoming future students to our centres and introducing them to an area of nursing they may not have considered.

Everybody has the right to receive high-quality, compassionate nursing and healthcare without judgement: it is what nursing is all about.

Kristin Panganiban: 'We 
need to be there for ​​​women'

Kirstin Panganiban, final-year nursing student at Kings College London, undertook a six-week placement with Marie Stopes UK’s west London centre

'This is the first time a placement has been available in an abortion clinic, so I was really excited to grab this opportunity. I have always been interested in sexual health and gynaecology and this experience goes hand in hand with that.

'Now I feel that if I meet someone who needs a termination I can properly advise them.

'It is definitely a different kind of nursing from working in hospitals and wards and requires a different set of skills. It is nurse-led, so you are able to work much more independently.

'Even though the women who come in are well, you need to look after them emotionally and good communication skills are vital. It can be a difficult day, so you need to be able to empathise with them and make them feel reassured.

Counselling and safeguarding are a huge part of the role

'The biggest surprise for me was how big a role safeguarding plays. I have seen the statistics, but I didn’t appreciate the levels of domestic and sexual abuse that happened until I saw it first hand.

'On my placement, we saw a lot of under-16s, lots of women experiencing domestic abuse and women who were unsure about their decision, which is why counselling is such an important service.

'As part of the placement, we went to Marie Stopes UK’s national call centre in Bristol. Listening to the counsellors provided insight into how they support women.

'I think there is currently a big knowledge gap in nursing around abortion – I knew nothing about it until I did this placement. There will always be women who need this care and will do whatever they need to access it, whether it is readily available or not.

'There was a shock factor when I told my friends and family about my placement. But I told them that it is healthcare, and whether people are against it or not it doesn’t bother me. There is a stigma around abortion, but I want to change that. We need to be there for women.'

Find out more

Marie Stopes UK has launched a new campaign #SmashAbortionStigma to break the silence about abortion  

Angela Jones is clinical educator at Marie Stopes UK




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