Although at STNP we are not affiliated with any trade unions, we did want to tell you about what happens at RCN congress because so many of us have found it such a valuable learning experience.
Lots of people have never heard of RCN congress before, I certainly hadn’t until I started to become a lot more active and involved in my local RCN branch. You can attend congress in two different capacities; as voting members or non-voting members. Voting members have different responsibilities to non-voting members. Voting members tend to be full funded by the RCN branch to attend on their behalf; they are there to act on behalf of the membership and vote. Non – voting members may be there in a couple of different capacities. For example, you may be self –funding, in which case it is your choice which debates you attend. Some non –voting members may also be there in a governance capacity such as the trade union or professional nursing committee.
Congress is usually held in a different part of the country each year, so far I have travelled to Glasgow and Liverpool. This year I am going to Belfast! The next three years after this it will be held in Liverpool again, which is great for continuity and a fantastic location for everyone to be able to access.
So what happens at congress…? The essential premise of congress is to discuss current issues in nursing which RCN members have submitted to the agenda committee. These can either be “matters for discussion” or a “resolution”. Matters for discussion are interest points which can be debated out. Resolutions are also debates where at the end you vote and the RCN spend the next year acting upon how the voting member Nurses voted, such as lobbying the government. Both of these sessions are really informative and people raise excellent points, things that you may have never even thought about before.
The first day of congress usually involves an opening ceremony, this is where we all join together, and have speeches from some of the people from the RCN, such as the president. They also announce the winner of their awards such as SIO (student information officer) of the year. Following this the exhibition then opens which is for everyone to look around.
The second day onwards is then jam packed with things to do. Debates start quite early in the morning and last until rough 4pm. You do get a chance to break for lunch. Most days at lunch time there are fringe events. These fringe events are amazing learning opportunities which often teach you about really current topics in nursing such as sepsis. These fringe events also run in the evening after the debates have finished! First time speakers are strongly encouraged to get up and put their point across. Students are valued.
Finally, if you aren’t worn out from all of the debates and education side of things then there is an opportunity to socialise and network too. The RCN holds some great evening events such as a regional dinner where you get to meet loads of other nurses from your region. This year there is an evening event at the Titanic experience centre! Last year I had the opportunity to go out for dinner with the CYP forum which really helps build your network and support system.
There is a special programme specifically for students to be able to attend which runs over two days and is a fantastic opportunity if you don’t receive funding for the full 5 days at congress, or are unable to self-fund although I would recommend trying to attend as much of the 5 days of congress as possible as it is an amazing opportunity not to be missed!
(Lucy Mason – student nurse)