Posted Monday 6 February 2023
International student Athira Gangadharan, from India, is in her final year of a masters course in adult nursing at Kingston University. Here, she shares reflections on her elective placement at a male young offender institution, where she worked alongside general practitioners (GPs), paramedics and psychiatrists to support prisoners dealing with a range of ailments including mental health and substance misuse problems.
When I signed up to do my elective placement I didn't know what to expect and I was a little apprehensive. This was heightened by the fact that I was the only student nurse working at the institution at that time, but I wanted to try a different type of nursing to what I had experienced on my hospital placements.
After a few days, I began to settle into the role. The work was extremely varied, and it provided me with opportunities to learn a wide range of nursing skills across different areas. I helped with administering medication, screening patients when new inmates arrived, responding to emergencies, and giving vaccinations. No two days were ever the same and it came with a host of challenges.
Working as a prison nurse is similar to the care provided by nurses in a hospital. The inmates are still our patients and we are there to take care of them, however the way we approach it is different. I learnt a lot about behavioural therapy and conflict management skills to de-escalate situations that may lead to violence and reassure inmates we are there to help them. Many of them had experienced a difficult life and had come from complex family and social backgrounds. Our role as nurses is to make them feel comfortable around us and do what we can to support them through what they are dealing with mentally.
The patient group in the prison was varied and complex. I encountered inmates with a wide range of problems including mental health issues, alcohol detoxing and self-harm. I also took care of patients who, before arriving at the prison, had been misusing prescription drugs and developed a significant substance dependence. As the person who delivered medication to the cells, my role was to reassure them, slowly lower their daily dosage to reduce their dependence and educate them as to why we were doing this, supporting the treatment they were receiving from the prison psychologist.
During my time at the institution, I looked after some of the most vulnerable patients I have ever cared for. The nursing team were some of the most inspiring and highly skilled nurses I've ever worked with, and I learnt so much from working alongside the psychologists, paramedics and prison officers. Not once have I regretted my decision to choose this for my elective placement and I would recommend it to anyone who is keen to learn a different side of nursing that is varied, challenging and incredibly rewarding.
Elective placements provide invaluable opportunity to learn key skills for future career
Lead for student nurse electives and senior lecturer in adult nursing Michelle Grainger said the elective placements are an opportunity for students to gain exposure in different areas. "We encourage our students to try things they haven't already experienced on their clinical placements and so we were thrilled to hear that Athira had decided to work at a young offender institution," she said. "The problem-solving and communication skills that she has learnt from the challenging scenarios she had to deal with will be invaluable for her future nursing career."
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