NQN · Placement · Study & Academia · The StN Project · The Wider World of Nursing

“There are no opportunities in Learning Disability Nursing” – Dispelling the Myth

When I first told people that I was I was applying to do a degree in Learning Disability nursing, I was swiftly told that “all you will do is jigsaws, colouring in and sing nursery rhymes. There are no opportunities in Learning Disability nursing”. And nearly three years later, when I speak with students; professionals or prospective professionals, I still hear those latter eight word; and recently, I have discovered how impactful those eight words are having on the field of learning disability nursing. The statistics don’t lie. Year upon year, we see a decline in the number of applicants for Pre- Registration Nursing in Learning Disability at universities. This has resulted in a number of institutes scrapping this field of nursing from their curriculum. I will never forget this moment; I was reading in a learning disability nursing journal that one of the institutes I applied to study this field of nursing at had scrapped the course due to lack of applications. I remember thinking in that moment, “I would be devastated if such a thing happened at my university”. Upon discussion with my colleagues and university lecturers, the general consensus was because of the perception of lack of opportunities within this field. My colleagues and I argue that the idea of there being no opportunities in learning disability nursing is likened to the idea that if you sail so far, you will fall off the earth; a myth.

More recently, I have had the immense pleasure of sharing my placement experiences with training nursing associates (TNA). What I have been horrified to learn is the length of time that TNA’s will be on placement in a learning disability environment for. Some TNA’s I have worked with have only been on placement with me for one week. One week of working with people with learning disability over the course of their two year training. When I asked them why they feel they spend such little time in a learning disability placement, those same eight words are repeated to me: “There are no opportunities in learning disability nursing”.

It is impossible for me to dispel the myth in one blog but please allow me a moment to share with you readers the diverse and incredible placement opportunities I have been given by training within the field of learning disability;

  • Special Education Needs School
  • Acquired Brain Injury Long Term Care
  • Neuro – Rehabilitation Facility
  • Community Learning Disability Team
  • Assessment and Treatment
  • Court of Protection Proceedings
  • Learning Disability Liaison Nurse in an acute hospital
  • Weight management clinics
  • Diabetes management clinics
  • Sexual Health Clinics
  • Epilepsy awareness

In learning disability nursing, I have had the opportunity to support adults, children, pregnancy and mental health conditions; in acute, inpatient and outpatient settings. In learning disability nursing, I have explored all disciplines of nursing. This year we ae celebrating a century of learning disability nursing. One hundreds years of growth that continues to evolve.

I write this blog at the 11th hour of my nursing degree. It is so hard to articulate the personal and professional growth one feels at this point of a nursing degree. I am not naïve to the fact that my previous professional experience (three years) in the field of learning disability gave me an advantage, however the same skills that I have since acquired with and from my colleagues are the skills set that I am most proud. It would be an outright lie for me to say that I am the product of my own work, when I have picked up so many skills and knowledge from teachers and colleagues. Through my own work as a student, in research and in practice, I have come to know the devastating inequalities that people with a learning disability still face today. Even in a metropolitan city like

In London the figures of premature avoidable deaths, missed health appointments and negative attitudes towards this client group is alarming. Instead of deterring me from my chosen career, it has given me the extra drive and passion to promote those health needs for people with a learning disability to help enhance and save lives.

As I said previously, I was told that all I would do is Jigsaws for three years. I can attest that learning disability nursing is a puzzle within itself and by working with your service users, you can research, find and amalgamate the pieces of this puzzle to create a holistic plan of care and to maintain that a high quality of life is preserved.

I’m always asked “It must be really rewarding what you do”. Its only in hindsight when I write a blog such as this that I truly see that nothing has fulfilled me more than working and training in the field of learning disability.

To be continued…

Written by Benn Garner (@BennG90)

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