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The role of the nurse is never-ending and always-expanding

Student mental health nurse Chris Wrathall

10 May 2017

As Nurses' Day 2017 approaches, student mental health nurse Chris Wrathall talks about the profession he loves...

Where do/ did you work as a nurse?: I am currently a student mental health nurse in my final year at the University of Central Lancashire. My placements have been with Lancashire Care NHS FT in a variety of settings - health visiting, mental health wards, community therapy and community mental health teams. I also currently work as a bank nursing assistant at LCFT and Mersey Care NHS FT – these roles help support me financially but they are also invaluable in my development as a student.

What made you decide to go into nursing? I had been a nursing assistant in a learning disabilities setting for four and a half years, mostly working with service users with autism. I loved the challenge of the job and being able to see the positive effect nursing interventions had, not just for service users but their families too. In time I became more involved with the multidisciplinary team. I enjoyed being part of a team, both leading and following, and especially taking the 'long view' in care planning - that's when I knew my nurse training was a natural progression.

What qualities do you think a nurse needs? The six Cs enshrine the skills we must have as nurses. I would add patience - with patients and difficult situations, but also with yourself as you develop while training and beyond. You can never know everything as a nurse, so you must embrace your shortfalls but take positive steps to address them. A willingness to work as part of a team is also vital. Focusing on the best outcome for the patient requires multidisciplinary working - taking on board varying views and reflecting on where things have gone well and not so well.

What do you think is the role of a nurse? There are ‘basics’, as I’d describe them, which we must all have a confident grasp of as nurses. But the role of the nurse is truly never-ending and always-expanding, lifelong learning. I can’t think of any aspect of care I would happily tell a patient or service user wasn’t my concern. As nurses we deal with medical issues, mental health issues, a mixture of the two, as well as social and environmental factors and it’s impossible to say where our role ends - moreover there are always aspects which we must improve upon. As such there’s an onus on us to constantly expand our expertise in all areas – it’s a challenge, of course, but we wouldn’t have it any other way! 

What is your favourite/most challenging part of your job? The variation in this job is undoubtedly both my favourite part and its most challenging aspect! I have had placements working with people across the lifespan – babies and their mothers, children, adolescents, adults and older adults. Even within these areas, no two days are ever the same. The importance of mental health in all areas and ages of life is finally getting the focus it deserves, so it’s an exciting time to be training. There can be times which are very challenging, but this is what makes doing the job so worthwhile. The appreciation of a service user you’ve worked with, and helped, in their darkest hours is like no other feeling.

Can you describe your working day? My previous placement was group psychological therapy in the community. We would arrive around 8:30am, in plenty of time to check voicemails and online records. Service users would arrive around 9am, at which point we would chat with them and offer breakfast and brews (always crucial!) We would have a morning meeting with service users at 9:30am, discussing their previous evening at home and participating in a mindfulness exercise. Following this we would facilitate a group therapy session, followed by lunch. In the afternoon we would meet with service users for 1:1 sessions, following which I would usually be asked to work on daily notes encompassing the above. I would debrief with my mentor – a psychological therapist – discussing the care of service users as well as how my placement was going. Furthermore, the afternoon would give time for us to work on care plans and risk assessments, as well as discharge letters for service users who were completing their course. At 4:30pm we would round off the day with an afternoon meeting with service users – a debrief on the day’s events, to share our respective plans for the evening and to complete a mindfulness exercise. We would then complete any outstanding documentation – crucial in any area of nursing. 

Why do you think it’s important for nurses to be RCN members? The RCN is the world’s largest professional body for nurses, which is probably reason in itself to join – we are stronger as a collective, and the stated aim of improving patient care is crucial for us all. Given the RCN operates as both a professional body and a trade union, it covers all angles for nurses and nursing students. I have had the privilege of being elected to the RCN’s North West Board and have been able to work towards the RCN’s aims first hand. This is clearly a challenging time for the nursing profession, with pressures on staffing and beds, but as members of the RCN we can embrace the task of improving working conditions and patient care. We are currently preparing for RCN Congress in Liverpool and it feels as if everyone is approaching the obvious challenges we face with enthusiasm and resolve.

What might we not know about nursing but would be interested to hear? I work with a wide range of nurses, as a student and in my role as a bank nursing assistant, in which I work on a wide variety of wards. It never fails to amaze me how focused, determined and resilient the nurses I work with are. There are well documented pressures in both our mental health field and healthcare more widely, yet the registered nurses I interact with are always so motivated and determined to achieve the best outcomes possible for the people we care for that it reaffirms I have chosen the correct career path – we are a special breed, why not embrace that?!

Friday 12 May is Nurses' Day. Nursing staff are the superheroes of health care. You're there when needed most, changing lives with your unique set of skills. We want to say thank you!  #nurseheroes

Read how RCN supports students