Community nursing placements: student learning experiences during a pandemic and beyond
This article explores the challenges in maintaining community nursing placements as dynamic learning experiences for student nurses during the pandemic and beyond. Opportunities to create new ways of working and learning are essential to ensure student nurses can continue to be exposed to community nursing care. Developing insight, understanding, knowledge and skills in this unique learning environment is instrumental to encourage the next generation of community nurses and increase the future workforce. Suggestions for alternative ways of providing learning experiences during the present period are discussed, which could also be embedded as long-term strategies in the future.
Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic in community nursing environments has posed, and continues to pose, many difficulties and challenges. Established ways of working have needed to be reviewed to ensure that both staff and patients continue to adhere to Government public health guidance. Continuing to plan and deliver high-quality, effective nursing care for patients remains paramount (Jackson, 2020).
Lessons have been learnt from the initial COVID-19 wave in 2020, and while restrictions continue to be in place and may well be reinstated in the future, new ways of working are being considered, which may well shape the future of community nursing.
One area that has continued to raise particular challenges in community nursing is maintaining the level of student learning capacity, supervision and assessment to the extent of pre-pandemic levels. Pre-registration nursing students enjoy a wealth of learning during community placements, develop invaluable knowledge and skills and gain exposure that may help them consider this dynamic field of practice for their future nursing career (Williamson, 2020). Student nurses from both adult and mental health programmes consistently rate a community experience as being valuable to understand holistic care and gain insights into the nursing, living and social care needs of diverse populations. Applications to study nursing have increased by 32%, with interest in the profession seeing a rise across all age groups. Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS) data suggest that 60 000 people have applied to study nursing in the UK for autumn 2021 (Council of Deans, 2021). This increase in nursing applications provides a superb opportunity to generate interest in community nursing as a future career, if students are afforded a placement opportunity. Ensuring the continuation of pre-registration nursing programmes is essential for the future nursing workforce, and Health Education England (HEE) expansion plans reiterate this need. Expanding community nursing placements can help to address future workforce deficits, developing students' understanding of this particular aspect of nursing as a future career and also encouraging registered staff's professional development in supervising, assessing and being part of the students' learning journey.
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