One Life in Learning Disabilities Nursing...

August 17, 2018

I qualified as what was then an RNMH (Registered Nurse in Mental Handicap) in 1995. This was my second stab at a career and it’s the one I have stuck with and been most proud of. Thankfully terminology changed, which was long overdue. Language matters.


My life changed forever when my second son was diagnosed with ASD and Learning Disabilities aged 3, and I knew from pretty early on that I wanted to work in this field.  When I announced to my family and friends that I had applied to train as a nurse I was met with a wide range of responses from incredulity (“ what you??? a nurse???” ...........cue laughter);  to dismissal (“wiping bums, yuk”) ; and despair (“but you could earn so much more as a .....”)


Well, I did it anyway, and with the support of my awesome family and closest friends, I went on to complete a M.Sc. in 2002, writing my dissertation on staff knowledge of and attitudes to ASD (top tip, if you have to write 20,000 words, pick a subject you are passionate about!)


Apart from a brief spell as a Staff Nurse in Hensol Hospital (steepest learning curve ever), I have spent my career in various community settings across South Wales, becoming a Senior Nurse in RCT.


Two things stand out as I come towards the end of my career:


Firstly, that it’s pointless to debate whether us nurses should aspire to sympathy or empathy. What we need to do is to be alongside people when we are needed (and trust me, I know this from the other side; there can be wonderful times associated with having Learning Disabilities or living with people with L.D., but there can be brutal and desperate times too.) No one can really walk a day in my son’s shoes, or mine for that matter, but when he (and we) need support, advice, practical hel


p, then come alongside us. When we no longer require that level of support, thanks very much, we’ve got this now..........


Secondly, I have without a doubt taken the most pleasure in watching student nurses turn into registered nurses who go out into the world and make a difference. Some become high fliers and progress up the ranks quickly; others have a quieter but equally valid contribution to make and spend a career just getting on with it; some become academics who influence practice all over the world. Heroes one and all.


It’s been my privilege to be alongside people with Learning Disabilities, their families and carers. To me, they are the best people in the world.  I would recommend this career wholeheartedly.




Madeleine Collins


Clinical Service Manager AMBU Health Board   




If you think this may be the career for you, there are still spaces available to study BSc (hons) Nursing: Learning Disabiltires at University of South Wales this September 2018.


For more information, please contact Rachel Morgan ( 





























Madeleine Collins


Clinical Service Manager AMBU Health Board


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