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A little support goes a long way

For health professionals who are striving hard to make a difference in their clinical area, working in the NHS can be challenging. But as Una Adderley reveals, with good peer support and mentorship, the job can be made that little bit easier ...

At the time of writing this I am sitting on a train on a very long journey home from a nursing conference that has been completely invigorating. I confess that I needed invigorating as the recent months have left me feeling exhausted and jaded – the NHS can sometimes be a very challenging employer.

However, I have spent 24 hours in the company of like-minded people. I have listened to inspiring and challenging addresses from senior nurses who are leading our profession, which have reassured me that there are people at the top who are influencing policy in the right direction ("right" in the sense that they agree with me!).

I have talked late into the night with other nurse researchers and we have shared our frustrations and successes. I clapped loudly as I watched nurses receiving scholarships that will help them develop their own careers in the direction they wish to go. These nurses will make a real difference to nursing care in the future by developing new knowledge to inform practice.

I delivered a talk as part of a symposium (and no one picked up on the fact that I had forgotten to reference a key point – what a relief!). This time, I was even brave enough to stick my hand in the air and take the microphone to ask questions, and make suggestions in some of the other sessions (even though I was shaking with nerves).

I have gained new knowledge, made new friends and have even come home with a new idea for a research study.

I think what has been brought home to me very clearly is the need for peer support and/or mentorship, when you are striving hard to make a real difference in your clinical area. However well you get on with your colleagues, there are huge benefits from taking some time out away from the everyday melee of clinical practice to reflect on what you are trying to achieve and how you might do that more effectively.

I also suspect that, sometimes, the people who are best placed to support you are not your everyday colleagues who are also trying to cope in the same situation as you. Those who are slightly outside your situation and who can observe more objectively may be better placed to challenge your assumptions and suggest other ways of doing things.

So when I eventually get off this train and get home, I need to email a certain person to ask them for some of their very precious time to spend mentoring me. I need the benefit of their knowledge, wisdom and kindness to help me refocus my energies and make some decisions. And in return, when someone next approaches me seeking the same, I will strive to make time for them.