Posted Monday 29 November 2021
A Kingston University undergraduate has been hailed as Student Nurse of the Year by a leading Chief Nursing Officer for her work in improving outcomes for people with learning disabilities.
Third year student Jessica Ball followed in the footsteps of her parents Alison and Christopher, who also studied nursing some 35 years ago and were taught by the same lecturer.
Jessica was given the award during a virtual ceremony at Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust's annual Mary Seacole conference, which celebrates nursing excellence. The Trust's Chief Nursing Officer Heather Caudle selected Jessica out of a strong field of candidates.
Jessica was the first student nurse to go on a unique placement run jointly by Surrey and Borders Partnership Learning Disability Acute Liaison Team and the Safeguarding Service for Epsom and St Helier's Hospital's in Surrey.
During her placement, Jessica identified a need for more information on wards for looking after patients with learning disabilities. She produced a learning disability information booklet that could be a quick reference guide for healthcare professionals at Epsom and St Helier's Hospital. It proved so invaluable that she shared it with other hospitals across Surrey.
Jessica also established several outreach opportunities, including showcasing how learning disability nursing can improve health outcomes for those using accident and emergency services. The accident and emergency department found Jessica's contribution so valuable they asked her to return to run extra training.
Nurses who worked closely with Jessica at the hospital, Charlotte Simmonds and Dara Shortall, nominated her for the award as they were impressed with her attitude. "From the outset it was clear Jessica was eager to have an impact which was beyond the expected professional values, essential skills and competencies completed by student nurses," they said.
"She is not only seeking learning opportunities to improve herself, but is eager to teach others. She's an excellent student nurse and a positive advocate for those with a learning disability," they added.
Jessica discovered her passion for helping people with learning disabilities during an equine management diploma where she saw the benefits of equine assisted therapy. She then worked at Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee School, a special educational needs school in Horsham, West Sussex, where she supported pupils aged between three and 19 years old – two of whom, who have learning disabilities, are still supported by her today.
"I have been supporting one of them for over five years now and wouldn't change a thing. Watching them both develop into brilliant young adults brings me so much joy – knowing that I've been influential in their lives. Their families are always so grateful for my support," Jessica said.
The 27-year-old applied to Kingston University after meeting Associate Professor and Professional Lead for the University's learning disabilities nursing course, Trish Griffin, who had previously taught Jessica's parents. Both parents have retired after long stints working in the NHS. "When Trish realised who I was, she said couldn't believe she was going to have taught nursing to a whole family – it made me smile and feel so welcomed into the Kingston family," she said.
"Trish, along with my other lecturers Anne Ambridge and Daniel Marsden, have really supported me during my studies and have pushed me out of my comfort zone – which has been really important for me," she said.
Jessica thanked her lecturers for supporting her during the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure the least disruption to her studies as possible. "It's been an uncertain time for everyone, but Kingston University went over and above to support us and adapt the way they delivered our course to ensure we weren't disadvantaged.
"My personal tutor, Anne, was a lifeline when times have been hard – she's always made herself available to support me. Trish has helped me personally, as well as academically. She's always been at the end of the phone, providing me with emotional support, and was there when I needed her most," she said.
Jessica is also President of the Nursing Society at the University – a group of nursing students who work together and support each other. "I wanted to create a supportive environment and emphasise the importance of self-care and wellbeing. How can we provide good quality care to others if we don't care for ourselves? I have always said yes to any opportunity I feel will be beneficial to my learning but have now found it equally important to recognise when I'm doing too much and need to take a step back," she said.
Jessica's lecturers praised her for her can-do attitude and said the recognition was richly deserved. "As her personal tutor it fills me with so much pride to see all her efforts rewarded. We need innovative and enthusiastic students like Jessica to make a difference to the lives of people with a learning disability," Mrs Ambridge said.
Ms Griffin added that Jess is a champion for people with learning disabilities and for her profession, learning disabilities nursing. "Jess' enthusiasm, passion and verve for advocating the rights of people with learning disabilities and for her commitment to succeed in her chosen profession is second to none – she really is a true role model", she said.
Third year mental health nursing students at Kingston University, Francis Bitature and Olive Omoit, were also shortlisted for the Student Nurse of the Year award by Surrey and Borders NHS Partnership Trust.