Why we need to care for our future caregivers
Though nursing is a profession that requires a great amount of empathy and care for the physical and mental wellbeing of vulnerable patients, it can be easy to forget that nurses and nursing students are often also in need of similar attention. Challenging placements and rigorous training in high-risk environments can affect the mental health of already high-achieving students.
Emma Harris is among many Queen’s nursing students who have reached out for help. Emma has been receiving coaching from Denise Neumann-Fuhr, School of Nursing Student Wellness Coach, for the past two years. The relationship was initiated when she began her first clinical placement—a step in an aspiring nurse’s education that challenges students to learn and practice their skills with real patients. Emma, like many students, experienced the challenges of transitioning from high school to university, including the difference in academic expectations, the task of building new support networks, and having to balance several facets of life and health. These factors were only compounded by the pressures of her first clinical placement in 2nd year—an experience familiar to many nursing students. Denise’s work to provide guidance, support, and coping strategies for managing mental well-being proactively are necessary during this critical part of their studies.
Fear of failure is a prevalent phenomenon among nursing students. “We start our clinical placements as teenagers and are often not immediately prepared for the realities of caring for the unwell. It’s an entirely different way of learning than we have known before, and that can get overwhelming, especially when receiving what can feel like a constant flow of critical feedback from a clinical instructor” says Emma. Often what young students need is validation and empathy, they need a supportive learning environment that emphasizes a growth mindset – where students can treat every experience as a learning opportunity. “Wellness coaching provides students with the assurance that they are students; students who can and will learn from their mistakes.” says Denise. “We then help them develop the stress management strategies they need to lead balanced lives.”
Although Denise’s coaching has helped Emma improve her mental health, she says that implementing stress-management practices is easier said than done. “Nursing students would benefit from an academic culture in which they are encouraged to reach out for help before they experience severe symptoms and repercussions of mental illness,” says Emma. She notes that as a nursing student who sees the worst cases on a daily basis, it can be difficult to identify as someone who is also in need and deserving of emotional support. “It’s time that we start prioritizing mental health as something as important as physical wellbeing; they aren’t mutually exclusive,” says Denise.
Not only does supporting mental wellbeing help nursing students, but it in turn helps their patients and colleagues. “When you take care of your physical and emotional needs, you are better equipped to handle those of your patients and provide them with the quality of care they need and deserve,” says Emma.
Student wellness coaching is currently available to nursing students for two afternoons each month. This is something that Dr. Erna Snelgrove-Clarke is looking to augment through the provision of additional services. “Having full time mental health supports for students in the School of Nursing is critical. As our students move through their programs, they must be offered the supports that they need to thrive,” says Dr. Snelgrove-Clarke. “If we nurture a sense of wellbeing while they are here, they will graduate to become the health system leaders that Canada desperately needs.”
Help students like Emma to access the mental health resources they need when you contribute to the Nursing Student Wellness Fund.