Nursing students at a university in London have been volunteering in soup kitchens and food banks, as well as supporting those who are refugees or homeless, as part of an initiative which seeks to enhance their understanding of diverse groups within the local community.
The senior nursing lecturer behind the programme at the University of East London (UEL) told Nursing Times she believed these settings could provide “valuable opportunities” for clinical placements in the future.
“There is a wide range of opportunities for them to get involved in, and they are valuable as clinical placements”
Sheila Sobrany, an adult nurse by background who has been teaching for the past seven years, joined the university last October to run its adult nursing module on civic engagement.
Civic engagement is an individual or group activity that addresses issues of public concern and can include a voluntary community or national service.
Third-year nursing students at (UEL) volunteer once a week as part of the module in areas across the local community, including mosques, churches, charity shops, soup kitchens and food banks. They are also supporting individuals who have experienced domestic violence or are stigmatised because of their sexuality, explained Ms Sobrany.
Other examples have seen student nurses working with people who are homeless or refugees.
Offering a module such as this, which centres on civic engagement, appears a rarity in nursing education. Ms Sobrany said she was only aware of a few other universities that provided something similar.
While the volunteering experience is not a placement offer and does not count towards clinical practice hours, the senior nursing lecturer said she felt there was scope for this in the future.
“They find their areas to engage within the local community outside of a nursing role [and] that means they are going to volunteer, which is what civic engagement is about,” she explained.
“There is a wide range of opportunities for them to get involved in, and they are valuable as clinical placements,” added Ms Sobrany, who noted that this was something the university was “looking into”.
Nursing Times recently revealed the findings of an exclusive survey carried out in partnership with the Council of Deans of Health, which found placement accessibility and staffing issues were among the most pressing challenges experienced by nursing educators.
Ms Sobrany agreed that having these community settings as placement opportunities would help tackle issues around placement availability across the country.
These settings also provided nursing students with a focus on health promotion and reducing health inequalities while helping to enhance their understanding of diverse groups within local communities, especially those of those who are vulnerable, she noted.
“It allows them to experience communities they have never been in touch with before,” added Ms Sobrany.
“They learn many skills they didn’t have before, in terms of interacting with diverse groups of patients.
“Or they may come across patients who have these issues and problems, and they develop a more tactile understanding of their background.”
“They may come across patients who have these issues, and they develop a more tactile understanding of their background”
Other benefits of this offer included that nursing students had developed “a sense of citizenship and connection with their communities”.
“They understand the relationship between policy and quality care [and] how to bridge that gap,” she added.
Nursing students on the module spend time after their volunteering experiences writing a reflective essay on what skills they have learned and developed.
Ms Sobrany also said she planned to write a book about the initiative to be used as a resource for nursing students on the module.
While advocating for this module to become a clinical placement opportunity, Ms Sobrany recognised some challenges to consider.
She said there needed to be a “dedicated” practice placement team involved in organising placement opportunities in these settings or “link lecturers” to help facilitate this. However, she highlighted that staff shortages could be a barrier to this.