This week, following World Mental Health Day, we have a guest post from Angela, who has been working in mental health for all of her adult life. This seems to be a question that lots of young people are asked and I remember saying in response ‘I want to be a teacher’. When I think back to it now, it was based on the positive experiences I had at primary school. My memories of primary school are really happy, and the teachers there were warm, encouraging and supportive. I don’t recall having any idea about what it would involve or making any serious attempts to find out how I would go about this, so it was a pretty flimsy idea. When I went to high school, all such notions had left me and I found myself probably a bit like a lot of other young people at the time, not having a clue about what to do and not being fully aware of what the options were. I left school at 16, became a junior in an office for a while before deciding that I wanted to go into nursing around the age of 20. I decided on mental health nursing as a field, partly because my mum worked in this field but also because there were mental health and addictions issues within my family and I wanted to know more about it. Funnily enough, I am now in Higher Education. I am a Nurse Lecturer, my field is mental health nursing. I work with both adult and mental health nursing students to promote good mental health care and treatment. The main part of my job is teaching pre-registration nurses during their 3 year degree programme, although I do also teach on post-registration courses and supervise MSc students too. I have responsibility for co-ordination of modules within the curriculum, which involves planning and delivery, assessment and evaluation of these to ensure the learning outcomes are met and the students have the necessary knowledge and skills to nurse safely, effectively and with care. Nursing is a practice based role, meaning that nurses learn both in university and in clinical placement. Mentors generally provide most of the support to students whilst they are on placement, but part of my role is to ensure that I maintain good links with our clinical partners and ensure the students have access to high quality learning environments, this involves me visiting practice areas regularly. I also take on the role of personal lecturer – meaning I support individual students on their learning journey and provide academic and pastoral support where required. I have been in this particular role for 4 years now. In some ways, teaching was always an aspect of my role, albeit in a less formal capacity, for example, mentoring student nurses, facilitating anxiety management groups, or providing diagnosis education to people and their families. When I did my nurse training, registered nurses were not graduate and exited the programme with a certificate, so I didn’t go to university until much later in my career. I found that I really enjoyed the learning environment and could see the difference it made to my confidence and practice. Although I didn’t really plan to go into higher education as a career, following completion of a Masters degree and an opportunity to participate in a ‘training for trainers course’ in which I would be expected to train others; other opportunities opened up for me. This was probably the turning point when I started to think about education as a possible career path. I made links with my local university and was invited to do some teaching in a supported way which allowed me to try out the role. From there, I took on seconded part-time post before making the leap to a full-time role. There are a few mandatory requirements, for example you must be a registered nurse, you need to have a relevant Masters degree (increasingly a PhD or willingness to work towards one is a requirement) and it is desirable to have a higher education teaching qualification, but this can be achieved whilst in post.
Being a competent, capable and credible practitioner is important in this role which in part comes from your nursing practice, so having a good few years and a range of different experiences under your belt is very useful. Look for opportunities to undertake education/teaching roles within your current position to gain experience for example mentoring students, teaching skills, being involved in inter-professional learning, perhaps making links with the university to shadow or do a secondment to get a feel for the role is helpful in making a decision about whether this is the right move for you. Being politically aware, keeping up to date with current research and the future direction in your field is vital.I love my job, so feel very privileged that I get to do it and can’t imagine doing something else at this time. However, if I could do anything it would be something creative – baking, pottery, quilt making – something with a pretty end product that I could sell in a little shop where I would sit, drink tea, read and chat to anyone who came by.
Thank you to Angela for taking time out of your day to write for us!