In conversation with…our student ambassador of the year

Newly qualified community mental health nurse Clare Manley has received an RCN award for her amazing efforts as a student ambassador at her university. She reveals what led her to take on, and go to extra lengths, in the role

Why did you choose nursing?

I went to university 25 years ago to train to be a nurse but was diagnosed with epilepsy and had to leave. A successful business career followed but my heart was still in nursing. That Erin Hanson quote "What if I fall?" Oh but my darling, What if you fly?” really resonates with me.

One day I decided to make the change and since returning to nursing I’ve never looked back. When you find a place you feel comfortable it’s amazing.

What drew you to the RCN student ambassador role?

I joined the RCN as soon as I started university at Sheffield Hallam. Communication across cohorts can be a tricky due to the course structure and I felt very early on that becoming an RCN student information officer (now called student ambassador) could help make a positive difference and improve student communications. I also took part in the Council of Deans 150 leaders – part of the student leadership programme, and it introduced me to the power of Twitter.

Clare Manley

What’s so good about Twitter?

With Twitter you don’t have to be in the same place to create a community. I used it to build up a network within the RCN and my university so I could connect with students in my own cohort as well as outside of it.

Twitter really helped increase the student activity in our area – Yorkshire and Humber is enormous so utilising social media helped ensure I could reach out to support students virtually.

What’s been your highlight as a student ambassador?

The student ambassador conference last year on equality and diversity was incredible and it was inspiring to hear from people I might not have met otherwise. It really drove home the fact that by being inactive we become implicit in inequality and that we all have a part to play in making change.

Another highlight was hearing my story read out in the House of Commons after writing a letter about student funding and the need for reform as part of the RCN's #FundOurFuture campaign. It was my personal story about why I would never have become a nurse if we hadn’t been funded and it was incredible to know people were listening.

What’s the best thing about the RCN?

The sheer volume of information and places you can go for anything – be it needing a steward, or help with interview techniques, or even where to find the best deal on car insurance. Not to mention the RCN library which is your best friend when you’re a student. It’s my first port of call for anything. Added to that, we’ve got some truly inspirational role models.

How do you plan to be involved with the RCN in future?

Hopefully in all sorts of ways. For now, however, I am passionate about looking at expanding support for newly qualified nurses and excited to be part of a project focusing on just that. People can feel quite alienated when they join the world of work so we want them to know the RCN is here for them.

We recently set up an RCN Twitter account for NQNs and within a few days it had over a thousand followers. People are really crying out for it. We’ve also just launched a podcast covering all things newly qualified – there are 25 episodes in the pipeline so watch this space.

Any advice for those soon to be newly qualified?

Find your people at the start of your career – the people who lift you up and don’t bring you down. In nursing we can be quite negative within ourselves so it’s best to surround yourself with people who see the best in you and get the best from you. And don’t be afraid to say yes to everything – you never know what opportunities might come your way or where they will lead. Finally, join us on Twitter: #RCNNQN

Has being a student ambassador helped enhance your career?

It’s definitely given me a broader view of nursing. Nursing is a political career – you have to be a bit political to be a nurse as we are dictated to by the government and it’s highlighted ways I can help influence that. Not only that, but I’ve made lifelong friends along the way who I will carry with me in the future.

Would you encourage others to become a student ambassador?

Yes! And don’t be put off if there are some already at your university. We need students to become active members because they are the active members of the future – the more students involved, the stronger we are as an organisation and a profession. It’s also a really flexible role so you can do as much or as little as you feel able to. 

An inspiration to us all

Nominator Jess Sainsbury, RCN Students Committee Chair, says: “Clare has worked tirelessly for students nationally over the past 12 months and beyond. She has done it with passion, grace, and without complaining. We all need someone like Clare to advocate for us, give us a pep talk, and represent the student voice. She is 100% deserving of this award. She is an inspiration to us all.”

Commendation award

Stephanie Jones received a commendation. Her nominator Haziza Chocron said: “When I think of resilience, integrity, commitment and enthusiasm I think of Stephanie. Thanks to her efforts Canterbury Christ Church University has a Student Nurse Society. The Nursing Society is building a strong network to support students and she's the heart of the group.”

Interested in becoming a student ambassador?

RCN student ambassadors are a voluntary network of student members who work to support and share information with fellow students. This opportunity is available for nursing students who are passionate, want to make a difference, have energy and enthusiasm, and are keen to become active within the RCN. Find out more.

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