• 17 August 2017
  • 9 min read

My diary as an RNLD Nurse: part 2

  • Lauren Young
    RNLD (Learning Disability Nurse)

Lauren Young offers advice on skills, experience and career opportunities to those looking for a career in RNLD Nursing.

I have now finished my degree in learning disability nursing and social work, and I am waiting to start my new job.

In fact, each person in my cohort has a (professional level) job to go to.

A reflection of the current climate for nurses and social workers.

Nursing is often cited as a ‘difficult course’, with three years combining lectures at university, and placements in settings including hospitals, care homes, and the community.

Advice for those pursuing the profession

There were a wide variety of people in my year.

We were different ages, with different backgrounds, cultures, life stages and experience.

Some had children or new born babies, some had a mortgage, and others were renting in university accommodation.

Some were embarking on a major career change, and others had come straight from college.

This added to the richness of the group, and shows there is no typical ‘nursing student’. All experience is valuable.

It was also useful to realise that everyone was in the same boat in the end.

Despite our different journeys getting to the course, our eventual destination to become a qualified professional was the same. We could lean on each other, exchanging ideas, and giving support when needed.

My own path towards qualifying as a learning disability nurse and a social worker was through a three-year degree at a UK university. The dual course is not widely available, however there are many single honours courses for different branches of nursing, and social work.

You could also study another type of dual degree, which would give you qualifications in two branches of nursing (for example, adult and mental health nursing).

If you already have a degree, you may wish to study instead for a Masters or Post-Graduate Diploma (PG Dip) in Nursing.

These post-graduate courses are also sometimes called accelerated courses, as they are usually shorter than a degree. Remember to check each course for their specific requirements.

You could also contact the admissions department to ask what the entry requirements are, and whether they need any work experience. This will allow you to tailor your experience to the course, and increase your chances of being accepted.

My top tips to any current, future, or potential nursing students would be:

• Gain a good understanding of the demands of the course – academically and emotionally,

• Have a good understanding of your own existing skills and knowledge,

• My course requires at least two weeks’ experience, so try to get experience working or volunteering in a care home, children’s clubs, or other suitable places,

• Contact the course you are applying for via their admissions department,

• Speak to people on open days,

• Research what you need to do to make sure you have the best chance of a successful application.

Work Experience

Some relevant work experience is needed for the clear majority of healthcare courses.

For a Learning Disability Nurse, you could gain voluntary or paid experience in a range of settings.

These include:

• Working in residential accommodation for adults or children who have learning disabilities,

• Working with children or adults who have autism spectrum disorders,

• Working as a learning support assistant in schools with children who have learning disabilities,

• Working at a Summer camp for children who have learning disabilities,

• Working in a day centre for children or adults who have learning disabilities.

Bear in mind that any work with adults or children will require a criminal record check, now called a Disclosure and Barring Service check.

You could try applying through care agencies, which usually offer training in the basics of care work.

If this is a new career for you, it may be comforting to know that my course was popular with mature students (including me), so don’t let your age become a barrier.


A learning disability nurse uses a variety of skills every day, which students also use on placement as a fully integrated part of the team.

It is important to really reflect on the experience you have, and look for transferable skills.

My own transferable skills really did become apparent and invaluable, saving me time and building my confidence as I moved from student to professional.

Soft skills:

• Ability to empathise with people who may be in distress or not fully understand their situation,

• Communicate effectively in a variety of ways, such as non-verbal and body language,

• Resilience (on our sister site www.socialcare.co.uk, Mark Redmond discusses the concept of resilience in social care - worth a read!),

• Leadership, for leading a team of support staff and providing leadership in what may be a crisis for service users and their families,

• Problem solving, and able to approach potential issues calmly to resolve them,

• Time management.

Hard skills:

• How specific learning disabilities could affect the service users you work with,

• Clinical skills such as taking blood pressure, pulse, and other vital signs,

• Having a thorough knowledge of how to use any machines you may need to, such as feeding machines,

• Mathematics, especially to accurately work out medication dosages,

• Writing and word processing to ensure any notes and information are accurate.

These skills will be developed throughout any nursing course.

Knowing what you need can help you to work on them now, before you apply, and talk about how you have demonstrated these skills already in your working or personal life.

The complex nature of a dual course, but which also applies to practical courses across the health sciences, means I have learnt excellent time management skills as I balanced two different placement sites, two portfolios, assignments, and exams.

As well as this, time spent learning the theories of person-centred care, and lessons from the Francis Report and Winterbourne can look very different when put into practice.

I am always on the alert for signs of abuse, and know what to look for. I have gathered confidence to report such signs, and know procedures to follow should any staff report them to me.

This shift from support worker to shift leader is a fundamental one on the course, and one which should not be under-estimated. Along with learning and practising the duties of shift leaders within care homes, ward settings, and community work, there are plenty of skills needed in managing a staff team, no matter how small.

Career Opportunities

On completion of my course, students are fully qualified nurses, fully qualified social workers, and graduates of an honours degree.

Some pursue post-graduate study, either straight afterwards or later. As discussed, it opens many and varied opportunities which are often unavailable to non-degree holders, and non-professionals.

The course leads to a wide variety of opportunities:

• Working with children,

• Working with adults,

• Working with people with disabilities,

• Working with adoption,

• Working with the criminal justice system,

• Working in the community.

On completion, most of the people in my cohort are beginning jobs as a learning disability nurse, or a social worker. However, these are in a wide variety of settings.

They include:

• Care homes run by the NHS and privately,

• NHS hospitals,

• Private wards,

• The community.

For social workers, people have secured employment:

• Working with people who have disabilities,

• Fostering and adoption services,

• Neurorehabilitation,

• Companies who realise the value of our skills and knowledge.

The wide variety of jobs, across learning disabilities, generic services, and physical and mental health sectors, is a recognition that people with learning disabilities access a wide range of services.

As people with learning disabilities are also living longer (in line with a general increase in life expectancy), specialist nurses are required across services such as those for people with dementia, physical injuries, diabetes, epilepsy, and acquired brain injury.

Our specialist skills and knowledge can contribute within a multidisciplinary team to provide high quality care.In my personal experience, it was worthwhile.

It is important to bear in mind that a nursing or social work degree is just the beginning of the professional journey.

For the first year, a nurse may undergo a preceptorship programme where skills and knowledge are consolidated and then constantly updated.

A social worker may undertake an assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), with lower caseloads to form a bridge between student and professional.

Although not essential, these tools can be very helpful in ensuring a smooth and safe transition from placement to employment.

I look forward to beginning mine in mid-September!

Browse our list of RNLD Jobs here

My Diary As An RNLD Nurse: part 1

About the author

  • Lauren Young
    RNLD (Learning Disability Nurse)

I am a qualified Learning Disability Nurse and Social Worker. I first worked with children who have learning disabilities whilst studying classical civilisation in Leeds. After seven years of working in care, I realised I wanted to take my passion further and qualify at a professional level. I am passionate about giving the people I work with, as much independence as possible.

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  • Lauren Young
    RNLD (Learning Disability Nurse)

About the author

  • Lauren Young
    RNLD (Learning Disability Nurse)

I am a qualified Learning Disability Nurse and Social Worker. I first worked with children who have learning disabilities whilst studying classical civilisation in Leeds. After seven years of working in care, I realised I wanted to take my passion further and qualify at a professional level. I am passionate about giving the people I work with, as much independence as possible.

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