Sarah Kean-Price interviews a learning disability student nurse. Find out what studying LD nursing is like and how you can prepare for studying this most rewarding of nursing disciplines. Sarah Kean-Price

1. Tell us about training as an LD nurse

I am a second year student nurse studying for a BSc(Hons.) in Learning Disability Nursing at Birmingham City University. After successful completion, this will enable me to apply for registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

The course is run over three years full-time and consists of 50 per cent of each year spent in clinical practice and 50 per cent at university. The course requires attendance for 45 weeks per year.

The Intended Learning Outcomes are designed to emphasise patient-centred care, integrate theory with practice and acquire professional competence. These are essential skills that will enable me to work effectively with people with various levels of learning disabilities.

Throughout the year, we are assessed using a variety of ways e.g. examinations, presentations assignments, class interaction, OSCEs (practical assessment). We also have to show competency in four domains during placements as an NMC requirement.

The nursing domains are:

- Professional Values

- Communication and Interpersonal Skills

- Nursing Practice and Decision Making

- Leadership, Management and Team Working

 At the end of the each year, I will have to pass all these domains as this shows my fitness to practice.

2. What is a typical day on the course like?

My day starts with lectures at 9am and finishes at 3pm. This is for three days a week at the moment but this changes depending on module content. This also varies with universities and the field of nursing that one is enrolled in.

During placements (Respite centre), my day would start with a handover from the staff on duty. Then my mentor and I would go around and check on the service users and delegate tasks to the support workers on duty. We then perform the drug round (depending on the setting) and administer it in various ways (for example PEG, Oral and Injection). When the service users go to their various day activities, we then make sure that all the paperwork is up to date and reviews of care plans are done.

On a community placement, my mentor and I would go out in the community for home, hospital and day centre visits and check on our clients. The visits comprise of supporting parents and/carers with behavioural strategies as well as health promotion advice. Depending on the case load, we would go back to the office and complete various paperwork.

3. Do you have a mentor or tutor to help you personally with your professional development?

Yes, at University I have a personal tutor who I can see whenever i need her advice/help, be it academically and personal reasons. She is friendly and always gives me positive compliments when I achieve well and helps me achieve even more.

During placement I am always allocated a mentor whose duty is to teach me the necessary skills I need to provide effective care to the clients and help me achieve the four domains of nursing discussed above.

4. Why did you apply to train in this kind of work?

For many years, I worked as a support worker for people with learning disabilities and through that work gained so many skills which I felt were adequate to do a professional course in this field. It’s a rewarding job and supporting people who have learning disabilities and their familys gives job satisfaction and a sense of achievement. Working with people with learning disabilities can be fun and, because everyone is different, it is never boring.

5. Did you need to show previous experience to get on the course? Why do you think you got the place?

I had to show that I had the relevant qualifications to progress onto a university course. Having previous experience of working with people with Learning disabilities, I think.

It was an advantage also showing knowledge and interest in the field too.

6. I know you were previously working in supported living - did this kind of work support your study? How was it useful in a practical sense?

Yes definitely. Before doing the job, I had not worked with people with learning disabilities. I got to meet the service users and know what they like and how they wanted to be supported. It is during this job that I got to know what having a learning disability meant and how this affected each individual differently.

7. What's the best thing about LD nursing?

Statistics show that around 1 in 50 people living in the UK have some level of learning disability, which makes it harder to learn, communicate and do everyday tasks. Each person will have varying abilities and face different challenges, often made harder by the increased physical and mental health problems they suffer from, such as epilepsy.

So playing a key part in enabling them to live life to their full potential and enhancing their quality of life is the best thing!

8. Do you think that having extra qualifications in this area would be worth-while? Do you plan to train further in the future? 

Yes definitely. As in other branches of nursing, more and more research is unveiled and having people with specialist training to help care for the clients is an advantage. Also, many areas within learning disability need more specialist learning disability nurses (for example Forensics, Epilepsy and now health visiting). My interest is in Epilepsy and, yes, I plan to train further to provide services for clients with this condition.

9. What makes a great learning disability nurse?

i think the following make a good LD...

- Patience

This is an important one. It’s not always as immediate as other kinds of nursing. Helping someone with learning disabilities to learn something new is incredibly rewarding, but you must be prepared for progression to be slow.

- Communication skills

It’s a job that’s all about interacting with people - so sensitive human interaction is the most important skill for any learning disabilities nurse. You’ll need to be able to talk – and, more importantly, listen - to all kinds of people with real patience and understanding.

 - Assertiveness

You’ll sometimes need to be assertive to make sure that the people you’re supporting aren’t discriminated against. Working as part of a team with health, social care and other professionals, you’ll sometimes need to stand your ground.

 - Resourcefulness

 This is a very varied job. You could find yourself working with all kinds of people in all kinds of settings - from small children to adults, with mild or profound learning disabilities, in their own homes, residential care, schools or workplaces. You need to be able to think on your feet to come up with workable solutions to any number of situations.

10. If you want to work towards a promotion in the area, what are your options? Is there a direction you'd like your career to take?

The key to promotion as in any field is to show interest in the development of LD services and be keen to improve their services and this can be achieved also through further training. I am planning to study at Masters level and venture into epilepsy as a career.

12. What do you wish you'd known when you started out? Is there anything you'd tell your younger self?

I wish i had started my training at a younger age as it can be hard trying to cope with the kids, the home, university work and placements all in one go. So I would tell myself to concentrate on the career side of things before venturing out into motherhood as being a student nurse is not easy.

13. And finally, what do you hope the future holds for learning disability nursing?

I know there is a lot of negativity surrounding learning disability nursing and most of it is mainly around jobs and cuts within the health service. However, this is the case throughout all jobs in nursing and sometime venturing out to other specific areas in LD could be fruitful.

Also, in the light of recent reports regarding the care of people with LD, I think that the training that’s provided to managers and support workers needs to be accelerated and that also providing information to GPs about LD will improve standards of care.