This week I have found myself thinking about empowerment quite a lot; which the dictionary would define as the process of giving people power and status in a particular situation and the NMC would say is a vital part of the fundamental standards for nursing.
This week represents the start of the next chapter in my nursing journey, I gave my first lecture as a visiting lecturer at my university and I am about to start working as a community learning disability nurse.
This combination of events has caused me to think back to around three and a half years ago when I started my nursing journey. When I started the course, I was feeling far from empowered. I was anxious that I might be the oldest on the course, possibly the only man, and would anyone like me? I had very little healthcare experience, so wasn’t sure that I would be able to do what was required of me, which would be exacerbated by my being dyspraxic. I also felt quite pressured; having left a job that no longer made me happy but paid me well and provided a certain sense of stability. As it turned out, I was very lucky to have a fantastic student experience, which significantly developed my feelings of empowerment. Upon reflection, this development was helped by several key areas:
Improve your knowledge. When I started the course, as with starting anything new my level of knowledge was quite low and I felt self-conscious about this. The more I have been able to learn, the more I realise I still have to learn but I now know how to address this ongoing process. In the same timeframe my level of confidence has become greater and I no longer worry that I will somehow be “caught out” in the same way by a lack of fundamental knowledge. This makes improving my knowledge easier as I feel much happier asking a question.
Take opportunities. Returning to university for a second time, I was determined to make the most of the experience and therefore tried to take every potential opportunity to develop myself. From chairing the University of Chester’s Student empowerment group, applying for awards and giving talks I could never have imagined the opportunities that this approach would lead to but it has led to some truly amazing experiences and has perhaps had the greatest impact on my personal development.
Face your fears. Working on things you find difficult is something that very few of us enjoy doing. It is by its very definition difficult. However, it is hard to ignore the fact that moving out of your comfort zone builds confidence and learning. I have had the opportunity to give various talks and to take part in meetings with senior people from both the university and practice to develop a new curriculum. Initially the idea of doing these things was very intimidating but having done it I felt I had developed a new set of useful skills. Self-reflection exercises helped me to acknowledge tasks and issues that intimidated me. This allowed me to work on reducing the number of things, I was worried about and enabled me to better prepare.
Look for Mentors. It is widely recognised by successful people from the Obamas to Tim Ferris, that having a mentor, someone who has done the sort of things you want to do in the future will increase the likelihood of you achieving your goals. In my case a mentor started my interest in learning disability nursing in the first place and I have been lucky to meet some other great people, during my studies who have really helped to develop me and my feelings of empowerment and continue to do so. It is important to look for the strengths and weaknesses in others to learn from. Having good mentors makes it easier for you to then be a good mentor.
Create a support network. Qualifying, transitioning and working as a nurse is recognised as being very difficult. Consequently, it is likely that we will all have difficult days. That has certainly been the case for me. Talking to my friends and being a part of RCNNQN seems to suggest that this is a universal experience. Having someone you can talk to who knows what it is like to work all day in the library on a paper or care for a patient intensively is vital to maintaining your mental wellbeing and sense of positivity. Awareness that there will be days that are more difficult and being honest about that with myself and others will make dealing with them more constructive.
Set short terms goals. It is a good idea to have a long-term goal of what you want to do. But it is also a good idea to have short term goals. The course was quite helpful for this. The sequence of assignments and the range of extra-curricularactivities provided a good template for this as you could always try and get a better mark or achieve something new. As I start my new job this might be to complete my initial training to a good standard or to make a good impression with my new team.
I would not like to give the impression that my feelings of empowerment have consistently increased. We all face challenges and this year in particular has presented us with challenges we could never have anticipated. But while the dips are inevitable, I know that applying these techniques will build my feelings of empowerment up again.
So, whilst at the start of a new chapter I am nervous about the new challenges I face as I continue to transition from student to nurse, I feel reassured that I have a template I can use both for myself and my patients.