Richard Mckinney is a learning disability nursing student studying through the Open University. With a busy schedule and long-held ambition to get into learning disability nursing Richard jumped at the chance to study with the OU, although he could never have expected that his first year would take place during a global pandemic.
In October 2019, I was very fortunate to commence the Open University’s Pre-Registration Nursing Programme, beginning my undertaking of an honours degree in learning disability (LD) nursing. Having worked for NHS GG&C LD services for over 30 years, and more recently as an assistant practitioner in Occupational Therapy I have seen a vast improvement in service provision within this area. Increased service provision has reduced health inequalities and helped provide a better quality of life for many people with learning disabilities. Being a registered learning disabilities nurse is an ambition I have held for years, and I was excited that the OU pre-registration nursing programme would finally enable me to achieve this alongside my normal routine.
The course I’m on became available due to the Widening Access to Nursing programme that the OU offers – for me, the timing was perfect as this was the first year the OU was supporting the LD degree, our youngest child began secondary school, and my wife was undertaking her Honours year. In hindsight, it may have been wise to wait a year! Joking aside, the opportunity that the course provides to people like me, whose personal circumstances mean they are unable to leave employment for studying, is immense. The removal of financial concerns allows you to focus on your studies, and when completed this can provide valuable opportunities for the future – especially if you thought the chance to gain a registration had passed you by years before.
A real positive of the OU programme delivery was that it allowed a flexible approach to learning.
And it has been quite a first year – the impact of COVID-19, the challenges faced by health services, and the knock-on effect this has had on students across all disciplines have been startling. Unfortunately, placements were suspended due to the pandemic for some students in other universities, and this has resulted in a loss of experiences which will be hard to replace. A real positive of the OU programme delivery was that it allowed a flexible approach to learning, allowing me to complete the practice requirement of Stage 1 and continued access to learning opportunities to fulfil the outcomes of the programme. During Stage 1, I received fantastic support from my mentors and OU tutors. They were always available to discuss any issues I had, offering advice and assistance to rectify any potential problems. I am happy to say I had my sign off meeting for the year, and pending my end of module result, will progress to Stage 2. This is good news but brings with it some trepidation. This is a course designed to train highly-skilled professionals so naturally, the workload and pressure will increase going into Stage 2.
As with all fields of nursing, there is an urgent need for registered learning disability nurses and I hope other Health Care Support Workers benefit from the opportunity the programme affords. This provides an avenue for current employees to use their existing skills to progress, and on completion of the degree nursing programme be part of the LD nursing profession. I hope to continue working in my present service as I am very content there, but for others, the programme could provide an opportunity to work in any setting they wish.
Good luck and best wishes to everyone for the future. If you are considering LD nursing, and have the opportunity to do it through the OU, I would highly recommend it. Stay safe.