Peer Support and #WeStNs

25th August 2021

Written by Sam C. Palmer-Nash – Second Year Learning Disability Nursing Student

I have always had an interest in coaching, mentoring, education, and peer support during my previous careers. In addition, I’ve loved showing new staff the ropes and enjoyed my role as supervisor.

My journey into Learning Disability Nursing started in September 2019 when I began my Access to Healthcare Higher Education course at College. It quickly became apparent that my peers would turn to me for help and advice, which I enjoyed providing and came to realise that I have a flair for it! When I asked why my peers sought me out, they said it was because I am very approachable and explain things well, that I am able to add context to concepts which helps their understanding.

A theme started to develop when I started at the University of Hull in September 2020 as a year one student within a small group of learning disability student nurses, they also began to approach me for help and advice. Again I was happy to help, and was told that the other students were coming to me due to my knack for making the information more accessible.  

We often describe ourselves as passionate. However, it has been nice to hear from others, “Sam, you are so passionate in the way that you talk about supporting patients”.

Because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the majority of our Learning Disability cohort received an entirely virtual placement. My peers asked me how that could work and what we will get out of it. I am a ‘glass half-full’ kind of person and so embraced the opportunities to build on University taught theory from currently practising nurses, whatever form that took. After each taught session, I began to master the art of reflection to embed what was presented and to self-direct some additional learning from each session, which enhanced my understanding and enabled me to explore subjects of interest.

I shared my passion with my peers, who in turn started to embrace these opportunities, and shortly thereafter I found myself offering to run some MS Teams sessions for us to share our experiences and reflect together. As I had mastered the online portfolio, I ran a teaching session as many were struggling with the platform. This in turn empowered some of my peers to plan and run their own sessions. It was lovely to receive feedback from my peers that I had ‘got them through’ virtual placement and helped them gain additional but meaningful placement hours through self-directed learning, in a situation they were not initially optimistic about. I also received feedback from our Practice Supervisors to say that several of my peers had informed them of my supportive nature. I knew then that I wanted my nursing career to involve coaching, mentoring and education. I spoke to my practice supervisor and assessor about my ambitions to work in practice education once I have been qualified for a while, and they agreed that I had a flair for it, and appeared supportive in my ambitions, providing me with sound advice.

Whilst completing my degree, I knew I wanted opportunities to help those beyond my own cohort. However, I wasn’t sure how to go about it and whilst I feel I’ve found my niche, I wondered if others in the wider nursing community would agree.

Since the early days of my nursing journey, I have been a regular participant of the #WeStNs @WeStudentNurse peer support network Twitter page, a fantastic resource providing peer support on a national level for student nurses from all fields of nursing. I enjoyed engaging with whatever content the team member posted that day, whether it was themed or randomly chosen, concentrating on things from topical issues of the day to any concerns relating to student life and lots in between.

I enjoyed the difference between the structured #TweetChats, where a particular topic is discussed, and the monthly #TeaBriefs providing an opportunity to discuss all things nursing and student life in a more informal forum. I had regularly taken part in #TweetChats. I always gained a lot from them to build my confidence in sharing my experiences and learning from others in a safe, supportive environment.

I continue to learn a great deal from the page because #WeStNs always respond to comments on their tweets and often ask follow-up questions or make a ‘statement’ to challenge contributors further and keep the conversation flowing. The page also offers a tool after a #TweetChat to record reflections and, as you are engaging with relevant, professional content, you can record your time as professional development hours, too!

Towards the end of our virtual placement, I saw that the #WeStNs @StudentNurse Twitter page was advertising for new team members. I didn’t apply initially. I doubt my abilities sometimes, and looking at some of the current student team members who were incredibly inspirational, I wasn’t sure how I could compete! I was a year one student with minimal clinical experience due to Covid-19 limiting my placement opportunities, I was unsure what I would be able to contribute. On the evening of the closing date to apply, however, I saw a retweet of the advert. I spoke to my husband and my best friend, who both told me to go for it. With very little time, I put together my application and clicked send. Probably not my best work because of the rush, but off it went!

A few weeks later, I heard back from the Team Leader of #WeStNs, with the unbelievable news that I had been selected as one of the new team members. I was shocked, and wondering why! On reflection, I talked about my life experience of supporting my husband with their epilepsy, my previous care industry work, gave examples of my previous peer support, and provided my ideas for the page. It goes to show that any experience is good experience, and that all have something different to bring to the table, whether that is life experience, knowledge or a difference in approaches, which is exactly what makes peer support work. Going back to my first complements about peer support, my successful application reinforced that I can turn an experience into something contextually relevant!

Once I confirmed that I still wanted to be a new #WeStNs team member, I was added to a social WhatsApp group for new members and a Team Leader to get to know each other without being overwhelmed with ‘business talk’ from the main WhatsApp group. Around a week later, we were added to the main group, where we got to know the established team members. We were each allocated a mentor to show us how ‘it’s done’, and when we felt ready, we were supported to each take our first go at running the account for the day. Team members are all supportive in sharing their ideas and tips. We are all from different walks of life, some of us are starting our nursing careers as mature students, others much earlier on. We all have different experiences and views, making the team creative and full of ideas to keep the page fresh. There is a real passion and eagerness to support our peers and each other in a nurturing environment. We’re a social bunch too, we share our travels, days out, love for animals, and have another outlet to share our student life experiences and reflect with each other.

If you haven’t already, I would wholeheartedly suggest you give the page a follow, as it provides fantastic support, and we often retweet requests for help from student nurses to help them, share relevant nursing news and all the other good stuff spoken about earlier.

If you are not using Twitter at all, I’d love to give you a nudge towards it! Twitter is such a wealth of information. I am often asked where I gain my information, and these days, the answer is usually from Twitter. That is because many inspirational people are sharing their knowledge and providing links to nursing news and information. I wasn’t sure how it all worked to begin with, #WeStNs was one of the first pages that I followed, and I quickly learnt that there is a lot of information and learning to be gained from them and from Twitter as a whole. You’ll soon get the hang of it, and be glad you joined!

Finally, joining the #WeStNs team is one of the best things I have done, especially early in my nursing course, and I cannot recommend joining the team highly enough.

Follow @WeStudentNurse on Twitter

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