Jocelyn Bristol is an older nurse, having graduated her nursing training in 1977. She will complete the NESP programme in late-2017 and says, despite her vast experience, the study has increased her confidence and totally enriched her practice.

Jocelyn has worked in midwifery and in a number of general nursing areas including hospice and community care – much of it while living in Australia. When she returned to New Zealand in 2015 she took a job as a support worker with the Golden Bay Community Mental Health Service.

She says the NGO supports a diverse range of people with mental distress from those in immediate crisis to those requiring long-term mental health support. She also says she’s part of a really cohesive and wonderful multidisciplinary team of skilled people. In all 10 people are employed in the community mental health service arm.

Her hope was to move into a registered nurse position there as soon as one became available, and when just such a position as a case manager came up in 2016 she was given the job and support to do the NESP programme.

Having enjoyed working in the community in the past, Jocelyn was keen, even though the one-year course involved intensive study, four one-week trips to the Whitereia campus in Porirua and several practical placements at other mental health services – all while she continued to work full-time.

Challenges and support

Jocelyn says she found the return to the academic side of things – the assignments and using online resources ¬– challenging after so many years. However, the tutors were very supportive. For example, they encouraged her to submit drafts of essays she was writing so they could give feedback, ensuring she was on the right track. 

Another challenge was just how time consuming it was.

“The study places real demands on your work-life balance,” she says. “It takes a lot of your personal time away, so if something extra comes up in your life you can find yourself stretched pretty thin.”

She feels fortunate for the support she received from her team. They were emotionally with her, she says, encouraging her and acknowledging she was doing okay. On the rare occasions when things were quiet at work they were happy for her to take some time to study.

Jocelyn’s course fees were covered under the Skills Matter programme, and she says she would like to thank Te Pou for this support for nurses choosing to work in mental health. Golden Bay Community Mental Health Services paid for her airfares and accommodation when she was in Porirua and she was kept on full pay while she did her practical placements. She is also grateful for this much-needed financial support.

She acknowledges, too, that being taken away from the workplace so many times was a challenge for the service as it had to get by with one less staff member.

The learning

“The learning has been huge,” Jocelyn says. “It has totally enriched my practice and increased my confidence.” 

She says examples include becoming better acquainted with evidence-based practice and how to research and apply it.

“I learned an enormous amount about things like contemporary models of mental health nursing, person-centred care, strengths-based approaches and recovery models. The weeks in Porirua were full-on and lots of information was made available to us as students."

“There’s so much I am going to take back into my practice. I’m a better and more effective team member through what I’ve learned.”

Jocelyn believes a lot of her new training will directly benefit her service users, particularly the practical learning. This included scenarios on how to deal with a specific situation. For example, one day-long session was about borderline personality disorder. It involved role plays on managing a crisis and getting the most effective outcomes. 

“So now when I’m dealing with a crisis I will have more confidence and better skills at managing people on this level,” she says.

Other examples of practical learning include case studies for developing strengths-based care plans and a workshop session on being aware of physical factors that may affect mental health.

“We had to roleplay and it made me really aware that there can be physical causes of mental distress – so it’s that whole holistic care approach and moving away from a narrow view of what mental health is.”

Jocelyn also enjoyed learning about cultural competence and safety and believes her service users will also benefit from this. This training was based on Te Whare Tapa Whā, the Māori health model developed by Professor Sir Mason Durie. 

As part of the programme Jocelyn also had to do 10 one-hour supervision sessions each semester. She was assigned a supervisor nearby in Golden Bay who had also been a nurse with Te Whare Mahana. She says he was incredibly helpful because he knew her situation and the service she worked in so well.

Tough but highly recommended

Jocelyn says she couldn’t recommend that other nurses do the NESP programme any more highly.

“They’re going to be enriched and become more skilled, knowledgeable, compassionate and effective nurses by the end of the course. It was tough but well worth it; and if I can do it as an older person, anyone can do it!”

She says she often talks with younger nurses about what a fantastic profession they are in. 

“I’ve worked as a midwife, in a hospice, in community care and as a Well Child nurse – and now I’m doing mental health nursing. It’s so diverse. There are so many areas we can work in and so much we can do.”