23rd May 2018

Reflections – Abigail Spragg

Abby, a mental health nursing student from Plymouth University, was on the Student Leadership Programme in 2017, and presented to students at the 2018 conference.

I had the pleasure of being a successful applicant for cohort 2 of the Student Leadership Programme in 2017. The programme came at an interesting time for me; I was coming to the end of year one of my training, unsure what direction I was heading in and feeling very deflated by ‘burn out’ and uncertain of the direction of my future as a mental health nurse. I had applied for the programme because leadership was something I seemed to naturally enjoy, as well as seeing in my first placement that strong leadership was at the centre of brilliant team work and effective patient care. I did not know what to expect on the first day of the SLP; me and a colleague (now good friend) travelled from Plymouth to Birmingham, excited and apprehensive of what to expect from the next two days.

I can whole heartedly say that I was not expecting to enjoy and learn as much as I did from the two-day event. We had the opportunity to meet some incredible speakers such as Joanne Bosanquet and Brendan McCormack who eloquently spoke to us about their experiences of becoming leaders and over coming the many challenges to get to where they are today. Talking with and getting to know like minded students from across the UK was possibly the highlight of the programme; I met so many amazing students and was astounded by the compassion and knowledge they had in their area of healthcare. The third and fourth days of the programme took place in London a few months after, and I was filled with such pride and enthusiasm to be reunited with fellow student leaders again and learn more about what they had been doing since the first time we met. Professionally, I was now a few months into year two of my training and was feeling the common pressure of stepping up another study level. I felt confident and supported in sharing my experiences of overcoming my own struggles with fellow leaders and found the true meaning of emotional resilience. Learning more about what it means to be emotionally resilient was personally the most important skill I learnt from the programme, that I have utilised every day since. After the four days of the programme, I felt closer to carving my own student nurse journey and defining what I wanted to get out of my training. I felt motivated, empowered and ready to be the difference I wanted to see in mental health care.

Jumping forward further into second year, a lot has changed for me. I’ve utilised every skill learnt during the student leadership programme into being the best version of myself I can be. I’m part of a fantastic group of colleagues running the first Mental Health Nursing Society at my University, promoting and advocating for good mental health among students. I’m also now a trained PALS leader, one of the highlights of my degree so far, using my leadership skills to work with the first-year students to help their learning. Plus, for the first time during my third placement I was able to practice with confidence and recognise the difference I am making to patients’ lives. I continue to work on not being so self-critical and take any criticism received from placement teams as a vital component to improving my practice.

I had the privilege of returning to the student leadership programme this year in March, to talk to cohort four about what I learnt on the programme last year and my own leadership journey. Being able to present and talk about my journey has made me realise how far I have come since the first day of the programme and where I was in my training at that time. It has also made me realise how far I have still to go, but this no longer worries or scares me, it excites me. It also excites me that the incredible students I had the pleasure to meet in March and at cohort two are future leaders in healthcare. They are a creative, inspiring and resilient bunch of people who taught me more about leadership and myself than I could have ever imagined.

I cannot thank the Council of Deans and the Burdett Trust for providing students with this experience. It has been invaluable and precious to me and I know so many others feel the same. I hope in the future the student leadership programme can be adapted and shaped to be a part of every healthcare students journey, as I know so many others would benefit from what the incredible programme has to offer.