Speaking out, placements and you

I know for certain that I’m not the only student that has gone out on placements who has had the horrible task of having to report bad practice. But knowing that doesn’t take away the stress that doing exactly that brings with it. To help with compartmentalising a situation I am going through at the moment, I decided to write a blog about it.  

The situations described are hypothetical, any similarity with other personal experiences is incidental.  

It is clearly stated in the Nursing and Midwifery Council (2013) code of conduct that raising concerns is a part of our job as nurses and healthcare professionals as well as the fact that it is a fundamental part of protecting our patient’s wellbeing. 

But, what would you do if you saw one of the ward mentors physically and verbally bully another student and colleague? Would you sit back, keep quiet and move along with your own business? Or would you speak up, so that your fellow student and those that come after have a fair shot at being taught in an open and positive educational environment without having to endure bullying?  

What would you do if you saw a doctor treat a patient in such a rough way that it makes your skin crawl? A situation in which you instantly feel sorry for the patient and the family having to witness this. The crying, shouting, pulling, twisting not registering with the doctor and they just stoically continue with their mission, oblivious that the word – abuse – could come to mind. Would you keep quiet because a doctor could make or break your career and can make your job very difficult? Or would you speak out on behalf of your patient? Sometimes it is easier said then done. But you have a duty of care for your patient. 

Speaking out has been a topic of conversation ever since I started my degree. We’re constantly reviewing real-life cases, where unfortunately the whistle-blowers have either lost their place within a trust, or have had to fight hard to maintain a sense of normality. We’ve also heard of the success stories, where the nurse unfortunately had to leave their job, but them speaking out created an avalanche of bad practice to come out and eventually led to a massive improvement of the provided care, or in some cases the restructure and closer monitoring of said nursing providers.  

However nervous I might’ve been to speak out about incidents I have come across I feel that my duty of care towards my patient outweighs any potential negative ramifications speaking out might bring. I’d much rather create a safer and more caring  environment for my patients, their families as well as for my fellow student and placement colleagues. It is stressful to bring these things up as its no ones favourite thing  to talk negatively about anyone, but to improve patient care I won’t ever hesitate.  

But how do you go about it when you’re on placement? Well, always go and talk to one of your mentors or, if not possible, to the nurse in charge, your clinical lead, the ward manager and hospitals should have an allocated speaking out guardian who is completely impartial and inhabits a role specifically designed for people to raise concerns in a confidential and non-biased way. Find a safe space to talk, create a safe environment for yourself and your listener so that you can share your story without confidentiality being breached. Then once you’ve told your story they will tell you what the best course of action should be from their perspective. When something like this happens don’t forget to inform your university that you’re putting in complaint, they’re there to support you, especially through difficult situations like speaking out. You might have to write a statement and even speak to Human Resources about the incident. Yet again, they are there to listen! If the incident is being escalated they want to get every detail off all the involved parties. The possibility is there for you to refuse to attend meetings or to submit your statement anonymously, but the chances are that it is harder for them to make a case against the wrongdoer. Also, if you don’t believe your complaint is taken seriously find out the right way to escalate it, especially through the speaking out guardians or your student support services at your University.  

Although the situation has had an effect on me, through speaking up I am able to reflect and process it a lot better when talking to someone about it. If I went home and started thinking ‘Why didn’t I speak out?’ I’d know it was the wrong decision to not talk to someone. Isn’t it better to talk to someone, even if only to get a second opinion? Or to have your worry acknowledged? Or would you rather keep quiet and let bad practice happen? I know what I’ll do – I’ll speak out!  

If something doesn’t feel right in the bottom of your stomach, if your hairs are standing up or your struggling to comprehend a situation you’ve just witnessed: speak out! 

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