My journey to becoming a learning disability nurse has been a bumpy one to say the least, some of my lowest points have included a breakdown of my relationship, my parents separating, rolling my car into a field, not qualifying for means tested bursary, failing an assignment, being signed off with depression, threatened with a fitness to practice, taking a break in study, moving house three times and returning to complete third year and my final placement whilst heavily pregnant and then with a beautiful newborn baby. Don’t get me wrong it hasn’t all been bad but at times I have truly reflected upon whether I will actually ever complete this course. I am by no means the most academic but my passion for learning disability nursing makes it impossible for me to give up.
When I think about learning disability nursing, I feel a fire in my belly, a tear of joy comes to my eye and I get a warm glow in my heart. I think about the people I have met, the times we have shared, the memories made and the insight into their lives that was gained. A learning disability nurse is many things, we work in a broad range of roles and in a diverse number of settings. Above all we are the loud or sometimes quiet voice of encouragement; we encourage people with learning disabilities to speak up for themselves and each other, we encourage families to maintain their confidence and resilience, we encourage other professionals to open their minds and encourage society to value the contribution and worth of each individual.
There have been several thing’s so far that have encouraged me not to give up, being a student representative on the UK steering group for Strengthening the Commitment, being a part of how Living The Commitment will be taken forward and being quoted in the published report, having a blog published by the Student Nursing Times, attending Positive Choices each year and meeting all the people I would love to be like, being shortlisted for the Student Nursing Times Awards, joining in @WeLDNurses twitter chats, Support from my peers, mentors and idols and most of all the kind words and actions of the people who I have worked in partnership with. I am not blowing my own trumpet but simply saying the world is your oyster! If you have goals and aspirations chase them, and achieve them because when times get tough they are the things that get you through.
In my eyes you can not learn to be a learning disability nurse, by choosing the career you have the privilege of already knowing your vocation in life. As a collective we are the people who want to make a positive difference; we fight for people’s best interests, stand up for people’s rights, uphold their choices, ensure informed decisions are made and safeguard them from harm. We get to know people and put them at the centre of everything we do, when we feel this isn’t the case we challenge the system and the way services are provided. In order to do this we are courageous and brave because we question they way ‘things have always been done’ and are active change agents when immersed in poor culture. Trust me there is no better feeling than seeing the ultimate demise of the institutional ‘communal sock drawer’.
Learning disability nurses highlight people’s strengths and due to the current financial climate become ever more innovative in relation to ensuring a person centred approach is maintained at all times. Realistically we can be the bearer of bad news as more and more funding is cut, however we strive to find alternatives or ways of overcoming barriers that prevent people from receiving the support they want to receive. We reflect upon the implications of our actions, how to manage ethical dilemmas and address power imbalances, whilst adhering to policy and legislation and even get to influence and make changes to it! There is never a clear cut answer or a one fits all approach, and that is the beauty of working in partnership with individuals and their carers and family.
We promote inclusion, variety, dreams, adventure and endless opportunities. We help make people’s aspirations possible without being risk aversive. As a learning disability nurse we work collaboratively with other professionals to ensure accessible information is available and to ensure inequalities are reduced. We focus on enabling people with learning disabilities can maintain good health and gain access to not only specialist but generic services as well. Through acquiring knowledge of local services we signpost accordingly and realise our own limitations. We work closely with social services, schools, colleges, the police, housing, drug and alcohol services, hospitals, mental health services, psychology, sexual health services, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and community nursing teams.
We do not conform to a job description, there are times when we have to learn about all sorts of things in order to enhance and build rapport with people. For instance there isn’t a competency to be signed off in relation to reading a bodybuilding magazine to someone who can’t read but when it came to him taking a dose of medication he really needed I succeeded where others had failed because he trusted that I had his best interests at heart and had spent time with him. We take interest in them as a person and what is meaningful in their life. We know what their perfect gift would be at christmas, the way they like their tea, their dislike of baked beans, we know the names of people in their photographs, we see things in shops we know they would love. We know what makes them smile and how to comfort them when they are in pain whether that be physically, emotionally, socially or spiritually. We have the best conversations with them sometimes without saying a single word. We bring joy to them and they bring joy to us.
It has never occurred to me to change branches or to be disheartened when people don’t quite understand what we do because no matter what field of nursing you choose, you are the one who chooses what type of nurse you want to be. I have never regretted my choice because when I lay in bed at night I think about how I fought for a lady to get a cochlear implant when two other hospitals had refused, how the gentleman with no section 17 leave now has 4 hours a day, how the lady who has been abused gained a referral to art therapy because she couldn’t put her emotions into words, how parents received some respite and in fact the person got a break from their parents and the person centred risk assessment that a man created that meant he could still attend the organisation he loves .