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Bedpans and Bandages Episode 4: Our week to shine

March 11, 2014

A guest blog by @strongest_smile

So a couple of episodes went by and although I watched with interest, as a mental health nursing student I was disappointed by the lack of coverage of my branch, from which I’m due to qualify in the summer. I was assured on Twitter by ‘those in the know’ that this was the week for mental health and they were right: we hadn’t been left on the cutting room floor at all after all. It was our week to shine…

‘Parity of Esteem’ is something that has become a buzz in the popular press recently. Mental Health services are often forgotten, like the poor relation of the NHS, so it was interesting that we were forced to wait until episode four to be included by the producers. When I announced that I was starting my Mental Health Nurse training, I was asked several times why I hadn’t considered ‘real’ nursing and even received a comment from an aunt who is a GP of ‘really? You need a degree to be a mental health nurse?’ It is so often viewed as a second class role so I was desperate for this documentary to break down some of these myths.

I was not disappointed. When they introduced Diane in fact I breathed a sigh of relief. She was great. On TV mental health nurses are often shown as the stereotypical Nurse Ratched type custodian so this made a refreshing change. It would have been easy for the producers to show a bit of Rich Tea and sympathy with a person experiencing depression – but they thankfully didn’t fall into that trap. Diane was shown working with a service user with a less ‘socially acceptable’ diagnosis of Schizophrenia. I half closed my eyes when I heard the lady say her diagnosis because I am so used to TV programmes using psychotic illness such as schizophrenia as a precursor of violence or aggression. Phew…and breathe – they showed her engaging with student nurse Diane in the same way they had shown her physical health counterparts earlier in the series. ITV had got it right; they had put thought into how they showed this often forgotten branch of nursing.

I was surprised by some of the responses on Twitter that a second year student was allowed to lead the discussions. Maybe that is not the case in the other nursing branches but my experience is we were taught early on that our ‘tool kit’ is something we build up over time and the we can only learn through practice. We wouldn’t be expected to take the lead if someone was in acute distress early in our training; however regular reviews and care planning meetings where if we go off in the wrong direction a mentor could always interject or step in are a great way to build the confidence of the student nurse. It’s rare in these situations that a mental health student nurse could say the ‘wrong’ thing; if they could have said something slightly better, that would be discussed later with advice given for next time. It’s different to physical procedures such as when they showed Kelly checking a pulse then her mentor checking she got it right – talking isn’t an exact science that can be measured. Even the most experienced practitioner hopes what they have said is right as perception is always subjective and owned by the recipient.

I exhaled in contentment when they showed Diane giving her first injection at a Mental Health Depot Medication Clinic. It was great for Mental Health nursing that they showed a Depot Clinic, that they demonstrated through this that what we do IS real nursing. I will never forget giving my first injection and as I watched Diane, I felt my heart pounding in my chest as I recalled those emotions. Our knowledge base on diagnosis may be different but ultimately we all use the same tool kit of caring, and compassion and through to injections and tablets. This episode confirmed what is not always recognised by our peers: that we are/or will be registered nurses. We just sign differing sections of the register.

My heart broke for Diane when she openly disclosed that the financial implications of being a student nurse have caused her to consider giving up her dream career. I have faced that prospect myself as I have met the financial challenges of these three years. I blogged about my experiences of financial hardship through my nursing degree recently. It shouldn’t be that way as the workload is intense enough with full time working hours in addition to academic efforts which are more stressful than the average degree, certainly more than my last degree. Adding fear of not being able to afford to live, or losing one’s home is a shameful reflection of student nursing today – but that is a whole other political rant for a whole other blog post!

As a student nurse every new task you undertake is a learning experience and Kelly showed that when she was serving meals to her patients. Too often nursing is vilified for having chosen to become a degree only profession – ‘too posh to wash’ is the term the press have so often used -but this series has shown that compassion and caring is still central to the nursing role. I have served meals on many occasions, often alongside qualified nurses and charge nurses. What better way is there to engage with our patients than when we are serving them food? What seems like a basic task forms the therapeutic relationship vital to our role.

At home on our sofa without the sights, sounds and often smells of a nursing environment, it would be easy to make comments about those who have been brave enough to expose themselves publicly in this series of documentaries by saying how we may have undertaken a task differently. I feel proud to be part of a profession which for the most part has done nothing like that and has expressed on social media their support for these students as they begin what is the start of a hopefully amazing career. The nursing community on Twitter has embraced this expose of our profession and rightly so as it has given a wonderful insight into our ever changing world.

I sincerely hope this series shows that nurses are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get on with it (metaphorical sleeves of course, infection control comes first!) but equally that we are a profession and not the old fashioned idea of us as the doctor’s hand maiden but that we deserve our place as an equal around the multi-disciplinary team meeting table.

We all have our reasons for coming into nursing. For some it has been a burning passion since they had a cape and a head piece with a red cross on it when they were about five; for others the qualities of a good nurse were always there but the desire to push themselves through the gruelling training would come later. When Kelly told how the nurses who had cared for her granddad had inspired her to want to become a nurse herself, she is doing just as he asked; she is indeed ‘making something of herself’. Those who nursed her granddad showed her the power of nursing. The power to change lives.

For @strongest_smile‘s blog on student finances, see:

  1. I haven’t yet seen the TV programme referred to here but I really appreciated this mental health nursing student’s thoughtful guest blog — a brilliantly articulate and insightful reflection.

  2. Thanks Tony. I’ll pass on your appreciation to @strongest_smile! I think there is going to be some more mental health action in this coming Friday’s episode, so stay tuned!

  3. Thank you Tony I was honoured to be asked to write it. 🙂

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