Lynsey campaigned to get a social space for nursing students to prepare meals at her university

“Nursing is a tough course," says newly qualified nurse Lynsey McLaughlin. “Students witness distressing situations on placements alongside the pressures that come with their studies and personal life.”

Lynsey McLaughlin

Lynsey McLaughlin

Lynsey was under no illusions about the pressures she’d face as a student nurse. She quickly recognised that her fellow students needed more support too, so alongside caring for a young family and working in a part-time job, she became a nursing and midwifery student rep at her university.

“In my university, alongside busy schedules, we were also struggling to get healthy, reasonably priced meals while studying. I wanted to do something practical to help.”

Limited choices

A local catering company was providing a hot food service to the university, but no one could afford to go there regularly. Students who wanted a hot meal felt they had no choice but to go to the chip shop down the road.

But as advocates for health care, Lynsey and her fellow students knew this was not a long-term solution. It presented a poor public health message and had a negative impact on their physical and mental wellbeing. 

“Yes, we could bring in a sandwich, but it’s not enough to keep us going and alert. We often only had a few minutes to spare between lectures and classes, which we spent running between buildings. We needed a safe place to socialise and eat in the university. We didn’t want to be reliant on an expensive external catering company or the local chip shop.

We needed a safe place to socialise and eat in the university

“I really felt it wasn’t too much to ask for. We just needed somewhere we could warm up healthy meals we’d prepared at home or get some hot water. I realise the catering company had overheads to pay but they were charging £1 for a cup of hot water and none of us could afford to consistently pay that over the course.”

Persistence pays

Lynsey got to work. She set up a meeting with the head of catering at the university and the regional manager of the catering chain. 

“I researched the prices in the area in advance and told them that not only were students struggling to pay these prices, but so were staff. I spent months going back and forth, determined to get my points over. I argued that other departments had self-catering facilities, and this was essential for nursing and midwifery students too.” 

Lynsey’s persistence paid off and funding was allocated to set up the facility she’d campaigned for. She then set to work talking with the project manager on how to fit out the room appropriately so now nursing and midwifery students have access to microwaves and facilities to heat up water. It’s a social area where students can discuss group projects around the specially fitted benches with USB plugs where people can work together.

The recent absence of students in universities due to the COVID-19 pandemic has meant the room hasn’t yet been used to its full potential, but it’s now in place ready for their return. 

They will need this safe social space to return to when face-to-face study restarts

“When I think of what many students have witnessed over the last year, it’s more important than ever to have facilities in place to protect their wellbeing. They will need this safe social space to return to when face-to-face study restarts.

“It’s not enough to just talk about healthy eating within our profession, we need to take practical action to ensure the resources are in place to make this happen. I hope the room will help students with their mental wellbeing too. Students need to be valued and supported at this difficult time.” 

Lynsey was shortlisted for the Student Nurse Award in the RCNi Nurse Awards last year. She now works as a theatre nurse at the Ulster Independent Clinic in Belfast and sits on the RCN Students Committee, representing nursing students in Northern Ireland.

Rest, rehydrate, refuel

The RCN’s Healthy Workplace, Healthy You campaign aims to improve the health and wellbeing of the whole nursing team, including students. 

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