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  • 02 March 2011
  • 7 min read

Barbie Sayers - Learning Disability Nursing and Social Work Undergraduate

  • Matt Farrah Co-Founder

Ever wondered what a Learning Disability Nursing and Social Work degree course is like? Looking to find out about social care and nursing? Debating whether learning disabilities jobs could be for you? Well, here are the answers as Barbie tells us all about her LD training and social work degree course.

I understand you’re a ‘combined degree student’. Where are you studying, and what is the title of your social care degree course?

I am studying at the University of Hertfordshire and the title of my course is: BSc Hons Learning Disability Nursing and Social Work.

Could you tell me about your Nursing and Social Work Degree?

During the 1st year we join with all nurse branches to complete the common foundation programme where we share modules such as ‘Biological Basis of Nursing’, ‘Core knowledge & values for professional practice’, ‘Foundation skills for healthcare and professional development’, ‘Diversity, Rights & Equality’, ‘Human development, behaviour & health’, ‘Monitoring & Assessment skills for Healthcare professionals’ and we share one module with ‘pure’ social work students called ‘Preparation for practice’.

The Learning Disability Nursing and Social Work course is 50% theory and 50% practice. In the first year, as part of the common foundation programme, we go on 4 placements in a variety of settings.

For example, I went on a 6-week placement to an acute specialist mental health ward for older people and worked there with mental health nurses. I also did 4 weeks on a medical ward in a general hospital working with adult nurses, and a 6-week placement at a special needs school... oh, and 3 weeks in learning disabilities jobs at a specialist residential unit for people with severe learning disabilities!

In the second and third year we have to go on a 100-day placement during which time we have to achieve the skills and knowledge to satisfy both the Nursing & Midwifery Council and the General Social Care Council.

We provide evidence for this by completing 40 – 50 learning logs that are assessed initially by our practice assessors / mentors. We also have to achieve nursing-specific skills which are observed by our nursing mentors.

There are many shared values in nursing and social work so with a little creativity with our placements and with good mentors we can meet all the requirements of the 2 professional bodies.

In the second year we are taught by both LD nursing lecturers and social work lecturers. Modules include, ‘service delivery, environment & process’, ‘legal and ethical practice for learning disability’, ‘evidence-based healthcare and research’ - (shared with all nurse branches), ‘theories and interventions in learning disability practice’ and ‘continuing practice’.

 In the third year we are again taught by both nursing and social work lecturers – ‘risk assessment and management in learning disability’, ‘enhancing practice’ and with all nurse students we do ‘research for practice’ – this is the module that helps us write our 5000 word dissertation which is a research proposal.

For 2 weeks during this year we study with various health professionals – ‘interprofessional working in health & social care’ (although no ‘pure’ social workers attend). We study a second legal & ethical module which incorporates us having to deliver a court report in a mock court case with law students cross examining us.

We are trained to become ‘joint practitioners’ in learning disability services but the role does not exist; therefore when we graduate we can register as Learning Disability Nurses or find social worker jobs (any kind of social work jobs). Ideally we would all love to be employed in the joint role as we have been especially trained to take a holistic approach to working with people with learning disabilities but as things stand we are not permitted to do this.

(It’s a real shame!)Past students have worked in social services jobs, NHS, private and voluntary sectors, schools and mental health teams.

Where would you like to take your career when you finish your degree? And can you tell us what it is about that sector of the industry that interests you?

I really have not made up my mind as I have not experienced what it is like to have a career as a social worker. All my placements have been health and all my mentors (except one who was a teacher!) were nurses.

I want to work with people with learning disabilities; I don’t want to do generic social work. At the moment I am leaning more towards looking for work as a nurse care manager of a residential or supported living type setting as I prefer to work long term with people. I would hate to lose my nursing skills.

What first got you interested in nursing and social care?

I wanted to work with people with learning disabilities because they have so much to offer and are often shut away by society, leaving non-learning disabled members of society without the colour and contrast that they bring to humanity. Everyone should have a learning disabled friend. I want to work for their social inclusion, not just for their sake but for society’s sake.

Without their inclusion society lacks flavour, colour, texture and dimension. I was scared of people with learning disabilities before but now my life is fuller and my mind has taken on a new perspective.

Sorry, went off on one there....!

Nursing & social care – I think I have always been involved in caring for people in one way or another – I think it provides me with an opportunity to be creative, to offer a smile, to make people feel valued, to offer hope and direction – things like that. I couldn’t be an adult nurse – I couldn’t do stitches or work in A & E. I’m ok with poo though!

Do you feel there are plenty of learning difficulties jobs and opportunities for you out there at the moment?

I haven’t really looked yet. People are saying that it’s the worst time ever to find work with all the cuts. I don’t think there will be ‘plenty’ of jobs but as long as the job search is broad then it should be ok.

At least we have a choice of professions to choose from.

Are you enjoying your course? What is it that you enjoy about it and is it what you expected?

I have enjoyed my course, although at one point I wanted to drop the social work aspect. I never expected there to be so many young people in my group. I thought you had to have had some life before you trained to be a social worker, but many girls in my class have come onto the course straight from school.

I would say, though, that the programme lead has experienced trouble finding us placements with sign-off mentors. In the third year we are meant to do 110 days in a community learning disability team in Adult Care Services but the teams are reluctant to take us as they have not got enough nursing mentors to sign off our nursing skills.

Also, I’m disappointed that there will be no joint practitioner role for us when we graduate. In fact I want to write to David Cameron about it!

The problem is with accountability and professional snobbery – ‘you can’t be a nurse and a social worker’. But I believe we can.

About the author

  • Matt Farrah Co-Founder

I'm fascinated by the career choices we all make. It speaks about who we are. People choose to become a nurse for a number of reasons. In our articles I like to explore these career choices. But they always share a common theme, which is that Nurses want to put other people first and they find a deep satisfaction in that.

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  • Matt Farrah Co-Founder

About the author

  • Matt Farrah Co-Founder

I'm fascinated by the career choices we all make. It speaks about who we are. People choose to become a nurse for a number of reasons. In our articles I like to explore these career choices. But they always share a common theme, which is that Nurses want to put other people first and they find a deep satisfaction in that.