Many of the universities across the country run nursing programmes that have faced enormous change over recent years, both from an educational and healthcare perspective. Developments in policy and strategy mean there is a mounting need to increase and develop the nursing workforce to meet the demands now expected of them. Education, training and development remains a constant need but is often influenced by organisations’ finances rather than the needs of the workforce. However, it would appear this is now changing since the Willis report1 on the future of nurse education and the work of Health Education England was released.
As a nurse in clinical practice I was always keen to support and teach new members of the team whether they were newly qualified or more experienced. More recently as a lecturer in nursing for more than eight years I have worked with many students to help them achieve their goals, either as a newly qualified nurse, nurses going into a new area of practice or during post registration continuing professional development. Over the years many of my friends and colleagues have asked me if I miss clinical practice now I am working in education. Reflecting on this, I have to say at first yes I did. I had such a wonderful experience during my years in clinical practice both in secondary and primary care and feel privileged to have cared for and worked with so many inspiring and interesting people.
However, while this role has taken me from the bedside, working in higher education has given me a wealth of opportunities and experiences as a nurse which continues to allow me to use my nursing skills, knowledge and expertise every day. Working in education I am supported to develop both personally and professionally. I have completed a teaching qualification and more recently an MSc in Professional Practice Development. The experience of recently being a student myself has given me a real insight into the needs of modern students and the challenges and concerns they may experience, so I can support them well during their studies.
So, what made me move into education you may well ask? It was a key decision made at a crossroads in my career while working as a practice nurse lead within a Primary Care Trust. I was offered the opportunity to do the NHS Leadership Qualities Framework 360 degree feedback. This process gives healthcare professionals the opportunity to consider and reflect on their skills and knowledge in relation to specific criteria identified as being crucial leadership qualities. Feedback is provided by peers, managers and a range of colleagues you work with. The findings from this gave me a real look into where my strengths were and equally allowed me to consider areas I might want to develop. It was this feedback that made me apply for a post in teaching as my strengths were seen to be in this area and in learning, facilitation, mentoring and leadership, all of which are key attributes needed in teaching.
I mainly teach post registration students but also teach and support pre-registration nurses. I work with colleagues in health and social care education, all of whom come from varied backgrounds and have a wealth of expertise in their field of work. Being a teacher on The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) approved programmes also involves supporting mentors out in practice. This means I keep close links with clinical practice and stay up-to-date with local initiatives which I am able to influence and be involved in.
Evidence based practice
Nursing is now a graduate profession and there continues to be debate about whether this is a good or bad decision. However, there is no doubt that ensuring care is evidence based is essential if nurses are to apply theory to practice so my role is crucial in helping nurses to understand research principles and how they can apply them to their own practice. Equally, nurses need strong leadership, analytical skills and the attributes within the 6Cs (care, compassion, competence, communication, courage and commitment) to meet the challenges of a 21st century healthcare system.
Being a teacher I am also involved in research projects myself and am currently working on a qualitative study with nurses in care home settings to gain insight into nurses’ knowledge of glaucoma in older people. This has enabled me to consolidate my master’s study, further develop my nursing, teaching knowledge and skills, present posters at conferences as well as submit articles for publication in partnership with colleagues at the university. Being in education means there are a wealth of opportunities in teaching, research and enterprise activities, so I am constantly developing new knowledge and skills that I can apply to clinical practice and use within my teaching and learning to share with my students.
Students now have access to unlimited information using the technology available to them and I have also developed considerable IT skills in order to enhance the students’ experience of teaching and learning. Students tell us they love the virtual learning environment and the quick and easy access to contemporary policy and literature to support their studies. A far cry from when I did my nurse training and made regular trips to the library for hours and hours only to find the article I wanted wasn’t available.
The way forward
Health Education England (HEE) is committed to developing the primary care workforce to shape future care in the community and the shift from secondary care. With universities playing a crucial role in developing the workforce to have the right skills in the right place at the right time, future education will need to focus more on multi-professional learning. As a nurse I will need to work across health and social care in a much more diverse way to meet the needs of these students. I am currently working with a team of physiotherapists to develop a respiratory study day that will be aimed at different healthcare professionals working in a range of healthcare settings. It is hoped that learning together in this way students will have a better understanding of each other’s role and the need for collaboration and effective communication when caring for patients with complex needs. Ongoing feedback and listening to what our students want will help improve and develop such initiatives in the coming years.
As a nurse working in higher education I continue to make a valuable contribution to the future healthcare workforce in supporting their continuing professional development. I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage anyone considering a career in teaching to go for it. It is a really rewarding job and knowing that you are influencing the future workforce as a role model of good practice makes it all worthwhile.
NHS Leadership Academy –
1. Willis. Quality with compassion: the future of nursing education. Report of the Willis Commission on Nursing Education, 2012.
RGN, BSc Hons, MSc, PGC/AP, Fellow of HEA, senior lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University
Donna is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Health, Psychology & Social Care at Manchester Metropolitan University. With over 25 years experience in the NHS in both secondary and primary care she has worked as a practice nurse and practice nurse lead at a Primary Care Trust in the North West.
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