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Positive Choices - The Learning Disability Nursing Event

Positive Choices - The Learning Disability Nursing Event

We interview Jo Welch, Senior Lecturer in Learning Disability Nursing, and chair of Positive Choices event 2011. Jo tells us why Positive Choices is so important for learning disability jobs, RNLD nurses and the learning difficulties industry in the UK.

Positive Choices is a 2 day conference, held at different locations each year. It seeks to help learning disabilities nurses network and discuss the industry. This year�s event - April 7-8th - is in Hertfordshire.

How do you think learning disability nursing jobs are viewed by the nursing industry generally?

Learning disability nurses have for many years been seen as the Cinderella of the nursing family. But this is an unfair assessment of a crucial nursing jobs sector. Learning disability nurses are an incredibly valuable resource. Positive Choices seeks to raise the profile of this part of the nursing profession. It also supports students who have made a choice to create networks with others in learning disabilities jobs and learning difficulties jobs from an early part of their career. Each year Positive Choices focuses on a different theme. This year we�re looking at the future in relation to their career and the positive impact they have on the lives of people with a learning disability.

Before we talk about Positive Choices in more detail, can you briefly explain your own background and experience in learning disabilities?

I have been working with people for the last 27 years (oh that is scary) I started off working as a volunteer in a day service, which is still there! I have worked in many parts of the country in long-term institutions, in residential services and also as a community nurse focussing on the individual's health. I am now a tutor at the University of Hertfordshire where I am working with students who are inspirational and the nurses of the future.

Can you explain when you first got involved in Positive Choices and why?

I went to a conference with some students in Belfast and it was just amazing. All the students had taken the time and energy to get themselves to Belfast and attend. I met the people who were then organising and they asked me for my input. I can tell you I was very flattered, and here we are now holding the 7th Positive Choices conference in Hertfordshire.

How did Positive Choices begin?

It began with a student who had been told that they should have been an adult nurse. They were asked why they were studying learning disability nursing, and told it was a waste of time. This particular student disagreed and their tutor felt the same. That tutor, Helen Laverty, together with some colleagues, invited people to come to a conference to support the students in their �positive choice�. It has gained momentum from there. Helen is still very much involved and we have representation from universities across the UK and Ireland.

Why did Positive Choices start - what inspired it?

It was very much about the students and continues to be so. There is no other branch of nursing that does this. It encourages learning disability nurses to maintain links with each other year after year, and each year we have new groups of students attending. The students are a fantastic group of individuals who come from all manner of previous experiences and backgrounds. They have this commonality that they share with us and it is their passion that is reflected in the continued inspiration.

Those of us behind the event are a group of academic staff who work together on this project in our 'spare' time. We do have great support from our Universities, but is in addition to our roles as academics. It�s got to be said that we�ve made lifelong friends undertaking this and met incredible people along the way that continue to inspire us.

Last year, for example... can you paint a picture of the event? Who was there, how many people, what they hoped to get from it?

Last year the University of Leeds was organised by Jo Lay who did a magnificent job in bringing together over 400 students. The department of health, local services (who have worked with the students in Leeds) as well as a leading national equal rights organisation, led by people with disabilities, all attended. We had many people there who have worked in these types of services and developed them including nurse consultants who came and gave their view on what their legacy was. We also had the editor of Learning Disability Practice come and discuss how to get published and someone talking on the importance of networking. It was a very full programme.

Do you think newly qualified learning disabilities nurses can be a little overwhelmed when they complete their degree? Why is this?

I think when you have been in the nurturing environment of education the actual practicing world of nursing can seem a bit of a shock. In fact, I received a message today from a student saying she missed being a student so much. She was finding that life for a learning disability nurse was very different indeed in the big wide world. This particular graduate has kept in touch and, indeed, hopes to come to the conference this year to help out.

We feel it�s right that RNLD graduate nurses should have the opportunity to come as newly qualified practitioners. Previously, they�ve presented to us about the benefits that their education has given them, and the career opportunities they now have. Students spend three years here in the University studying learning disability nursing, but it�s not until they graduate and register that they start their 'real' education once they�re working in a learning disabilities job.

You've mentioned before that LD nurses can be unsure whether to look for social care jobs or health care jobs, in terms of learning disability jobs. Can you explain the broad differences to those who may be considering learning disabilities careers?

I could go on about this debate for hours! Social care is mainly looking at the social needs of the individual and the Learning Disability Nurse has all the necessary skills to be able to do this. However their real skill is in working with people to ensure they have good health outcomes. RNLDs work in very innovative ways of meeting all kinds of health needs. Facilitating the health needs to individuals is central to what these nurses do in their everyday life. More social care services are now in private, voluntary and the independent sector which Learning Disability Nurses can participate in very productively.

Thanks very much to Jo Welch, RNMH, BSc (Hons), PGDip (Applied Psychology), PGCE

About Herts Nursing and Midwifery

About Jo

Find out more about Positive Choices and join their Facebook group

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