15 October 2015

Supporting nursing students with learning differences on #NurChat

Studying to become a nurse can be especially challenging for students with a learning difference, learning disability or mental health issue. Cohorts of new student nurses across the UK are starting their journey towards a career in nursing and for those who do have a learning disability or learning difference, knowing how to access support is crucial.

In a recent #NurChat, many student nurses with learning differences found that a support plan was beneficial and it helped them overcome their challenges. They were offered adjustments such as longer exam times, computer software and sometimes a laptop to use in their studies.

However, several student nurses found that support was not always easily accessed and that the official systems can be slow to react. In one case, the test to determine additional learning needs costs £100, which can be out of reach of a student living on a tight budget.

Identification of a learning need is the first step towards an effective support plan. Many #NurChatters found that being open about their needs was positively received and ultimately helped them in their studies. However, there were those who had a less positive experience when disclosing a learning need or health condition that limited their capability as a student. One participant reported being told that her condition ‘wasn’t real’, which has naturally discouraged her from disclosing it in the future.

Learning support whilst on placement has become much more accessible in some areas with the re-introduction of a practice education team. University link tutors and placement liaison officers were also identified as a key route to support while on a student nurse placement. Tailored support suited to the combined practical and academic nature of a nursing course was sometimes hard to access with staff not available at times when other course cohorts were no longer on campus.

5 steps to achieving the learning support you need

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in identifying your learning support needs. It will reduce your stress levels and overcome any feelings of being isolated or left behind in your course.
  2. Learn from your peer network. Other student nurses, both in the cohort and on social media, are a great resource for discussing academic work and sharing difficulties.
  3. Keep in contact with your link tutor or learning support specialist. Reasonable adjustments and support will be available, but give the team as much notice as possible so the support is in place when you need it.
  4. Use technology to help you. If possible, record lectures or group discussions so you can listen back at your own speed or use dictation software to help compile written work.
  5. Plan your time well. If you know you need longer for academic work start each piece as soon as possible and negotiate deadline extensions from the outset if it’s not achievable for you in the time given.

This #NurChat was co-hosted with Diverse Learners (@DiverseLearners) who provide UK-wide support for students who have dyslexia, dyspraxia or mental health issues via Disabled Students’ Allowances.  They also provide support for HCPs in practice and disability awareness (dyslexia, dyspraxia and deafness) training for the healthcare sector.