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Blog: Why did I decide to become a Learning Disability nurse?

Date 12.05.2018

Lauretta Ofulue decided to use her personal experience of being mother to a child who had a learning disability (LD) to good use helping parents in a similar situation by coming to University of Northampton this year and training to become an LD nurse. She blogs about why this branch of nursing is a profession you might want to consider…

Being there for people

I became a student nurse out of a desire to carry on supporting people with learning disabilities and their families. Someone asked me: why Learning Disability nursing? Well, my answer was quite simple. I want to be there for that mum, dad or person who is living with very complex health needs. I want to give a voice to those people in society who are easily overlooked because they understand the world in a different way. I want to help others understand and uphold the rights of people with learning disabilities and their families. I see the care I will provide as a privilege. Families who have loved ones with learning disabilities are very protective of them because of their vulnerability.

Becoming a Learning Disability nurse means that I will be trained specifically to look after people with learning disabilities. I believe it to be a position of trust that gives a family the confidence to delegate the care of their loved one to someone else who will understand the unique needs of their loved one and their family as a whole. I believe strongly that the fact that a person cannot understand or express their needs in the usual fashion does not diminish their opinion. I want to support and encourage them to make their own choices and help others learn to make adjustments to accommodate their needs.

The course so far

The learning environment at the University of Northampton is very friendly. There is an atmosphere of real interaction that the lecturers create during the seminars. Students are encouraged to contribute during sessions and the camaraderie among us is excellent! We are able to interact with other members of the cohort irrespective of their discipline. From the onset, the philosophy of “being brilliant” nurses is instilled in us – the sessions provide the opportunity for students to exercise their tolerance, respect and professionalism while contributing or addressing one another during sessions.

I have made many friends both within learning disability nursing and the wider nursing cohort. This is also helpful because our relationships provide the opportunity to cross-pollinate ideas, ask questions and sometimes just chat.

The lectures are excellent. They give us the opportunity to acquire the theoretical knowledge that forms the basis for the things we see in practice. It answers many of the questions about why procedures are performed.

The lecturers give us essays and assignments that encourage us to search the literature further for evidence. The interactive nature of the sessions means that we learn more. When other students ask questions, we are able to expand our understanding through contributions from different members of the cohort. It improves our critical thinking as nurses which is an essential skill all nurses have to possess. As nurses, we are taught to question what we do so that we can use the best and most up to date evidence when delivering care to our patients.

We have simulation sessions. They are very helpful because they provide us with the opportunity to practice on dummies. This remote practice allows us to learn without worrying about hurting an actual person. It gives us the confidence to undertake supervised procedures while in practice.

Nursing placements

The nursing programme includes attendance of placement learning opportunities in different institutions. These include the NHS, schools as well as other private and voluntary sectors. There is an excellent preparatory week to ease us gradually into placement. Students are told what to expect and allowed to ask questions about their concerns. There is also the student support team who attend the sessions to reassure students and offer support. They provide links to various types of support including academic, financial and psychological support.

During placements, the University links us in with lecturers who follow us in practice to provide support. They are friendly, helpful and easy to talk to. They also provide technical support for our online practice portfolio.

Challenges met and tackled

Mostly, this was time management. As a mature student, it can be very difficult to manage the work, life balance. At the start of the course, the University offered support for this through the learning development team and it was very helpful. We were taught about how simple things like time tabling, making notes and maximising the times we spent reading made a difference to our study. I also learnt the importance of rest, leisure and self-reward.

Removal of the nursing bursary

It was very sad when the announcement was made about the bursary withdrawal. However, my reason for joining the course was not material. I really wanted to earn a living by making a difference in another person’s life. As far as I was concerned, it was a little hurdle to overcome. I did not let it stop me.

I came in to the course with a lot of lived experience as a parent-carer and I hoped that it would make a difference to caring for others. After my son passed away, I began supporting other families who had loved ones with learning disabilities. However, I knew that what I lacked was the theory to underpin my practice.

Coming to university means that I can gain the skills needed to back up the knowledge I possess as a result of my lived experience. I also hope that my lived experience allows me to empathise easily with those that I care for in future because I too understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of care. My hope is to help transform the care that people with learning disabilities and their families get.

Should I become an LD nurse?

Absolutely! The Learning Disability nurse programme is excellent. Staff have lots of experience in LD nursing. There is an abundance of support during placements. There is always a linked-in tutor from the University and a dedicated mentor on site. The University admission process is excellent and members of staff are very helpful. They did not mind answering all my questions and supporting me through the process. We are also

moving to the Waterside campus in the summer and that is also an excellent site for learning. It is even more accessible as it is close to the train station!

For more about the Learning Disability course at the University of Northampton, see our website.