A vulnerable position

One student reflects on finding the courage to raise concerns about unacceptable behaviour

During my first placement of year two, I was offered the opportunity to go out on a two-day hub placement to learn some new skills. A scenario we all know, isn’t it? I didn’t think twice in accepting. 

My nurse for the two days was experienced and I felt I could learn a lot from him. However, the experience was not positive and during our interactions on the first day, his behaviour and the information he disclosed made me feel uneasy.

On the second day he continued to make me feel uncomfortable and unsafe in the conversations he had with me, making explicit comments of a sexual nature. As I was a passenger in his car, I felt there was nowhere for me to go. I desperately wanted to get away and felt really scared.

We arrived back, I got my skills book signed off and left. And then I cried. I was so shocked that a qualified health professional would talk to me like that. I was angry at myself for not speaking up and telling him that what he said was not OK.

I sat with my feelings for a few days and completed a long reflection. But the nag inside of me remained that this was a nurse who regularly took students out. What if his talk didn’t stop there and something happened?

The responsibility started to weigh heavily and I knew I had to tell someone

And importantly, what about his role with patients? I didn’t observe any wrongdoing with patients but I didn’t want anyone to be in a vulnerable position. The responsibility started to weigh heavily and I knew I had to tell someone.

On my next visit to university a tutor asked me how I was getting on. The floodgates opened. She allowed me to talk through the experience and finally said that I was right, it was not OK. It was such a relief to be heard and validated. 

With this support I made a statement which was shared with the trust. After a very long and difficult wait, I finally got the telephone call I needed – he had admitted speaking inappropriately to me and a letter of apology was on its way.

Moving forward

Nine months on, I still feel speaking up was the best thing to do and my advice to anyone going through a similar experience would be the same. But be prepared for the whole range of emotions.

No health care worker should ever be involved in conversations where they feel frightened or where boundaries have been crossed. Whatever your role, your employers have a duty of care towards you and you are entitled to work and learn in a safe environment. It’s the law.

What if it happens to me?

Nicola Clarkson, RCN Facilitator of Professional Learning and Development, says: “Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, free from undue stress, anxiety and fear.

“If you find yourself in a similar situation, it's important to seek advice, write down details and raise your concerns as soon as possible.” 

The RCN has a useful online advice guide on bullying and harassment.

Should student members need support and advice they’re advised to call RCN Direct at the earliest opportunity on 0345 772 6100. In addition to helping with this issue, RCN Direct can also refer eligible members for free telephone counselling.

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