Lorna, a forensic mental health nurse, spoke with Skills Matter project lead, Jacqui Hampton about her personal, professional, and academic journey with the Whitireia Skills Matter funded new entry to specialist practice (NESP) programme and subsequent funded postgraduate certificate in adult forensics. Here is Lorna's story.
Ko wai au?
I am a registered nurse and completed two postgraduate training programmes with Whitireia, firstly the NESP programme and more recently the postgraduate adult forensic programme
My nursing career began in my mid-30s. Earlier in my adult life, I completed a degree in English language and literature and worked as a copywriter in advertising. I moved to Aotearoa to support my mother who became unwell and while supporting Mum, I began working in a rest home and discovered a passion for caring for people.
Mental health nursing was always close to my heart. I have experienced episodes of mental distress, as have many of my friends and whānau and I wanted to make a difference. I considered social work/practice due to the strong advocacy and broader focus on social outcomes for people but felt mental health nursing would focus on not just health outcomes, but a more holistic view of people’s wellbeing.
My journey with Whitireia
Once I graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing, I soon realised I wanted to pursue academic study. I am good at writing, and it was a strength that could enhance broader nursing practice, as well as my own. I felt Whitireia not only met high academic standards and expectations but most importantly had beautiful pastoral care, they definitely walked the talk.
My experience with Whitireia has been very positive. Their pastoral support and understanding of the need for ensuring our Te Whare Tapa Whā is balanced and sustainable is a priority focus.
A good example of this was during the first lockdown of 2020. Block days were done over Zoom. Following lunch, we returned to Zoom, and we began discussing the importance of our own wairua. Instead of spending time discussing it, we had the following 3 hours to nurture our wairua and look after ourselves rather than write a goal as to what and how we would do this.
This is just one example of many where they demonstrated the importance of our wellness. Their genuine care has remained with me and has shaped my self-care and thus passed onto people I support.
For my NESP year, I was fortunate to have a placement (and employment) with a forensic service in the community that focused on tāngata whai ora rehabilitation and transition to independence. The level of care was compassionate and largely supported tangata whenua tane. Within this work context, there was an emphasis on the therapeutic space and opportunities to support real change.
I remember helping a man make his 50th birthday cake, all his previous milestones he had been in prison. This had a profound effect on him and me and highlighted the impact that evidence-based approaches could help change.
An example of the support that this service and Whitireia enabled me to identify and provide, was the introduction of pet therapy for tāngata whai ora within this service. This had a very positive outcome on their hauora; it fostered empathy, responsibility and brought joy. In subsequent employment, another example of evidenced-based interventions gained at Whitireia and applying to my work context has been the development of a sensory modulation space to enhance emotional regulation strategies for tāngata whai ora.
Within the mahi I do, advocacy is the top area that we need to cultivate. In most nursing contexts nurse care focuses on the health and wellbeing of people. However, in the Corrections environment, security is the top priority therefore advocacy is exponentially more important than a clinical mental health setting.
In forensics, you need to be prepared to strongly advocate for the wellbeing of the population we support. That’s why it is so important that you need a good team around you and Whitireia has been a strong thread of that support throughout my mahi so far.
Another strength of the forensic programme within Whitireia is a case study focused paper. It allowed me to choose my area of development and allowed me to concentrate on a project that contributed to mitigating the stigmatised Rainbow community. The case study paper essentially tailored the course to my and my community’s needs. Perhaps this may have limited a more generalised overview of mental health within the forensic setting, however, it enabled very specific and much-needed direction to support and advocate for this group. The supervision component enhanced the learning and enabled deeper reflection and research into gaps of knowledge and ongoing areas of development and interest.
One area of theory that I have been able to bring into practice since studying at Whitireia is a greater understanding of methods of reflection. The standard, Gibbs’ reflective cycle (1988), did not work for me and led me to believe that I was doing reflection ‘wrong’. However through my Whitireia NESP study, I was able to explore other frameworks, one of which (Johns, 1995) suits me much better. Whitireia provided the flexibility of offering a range of evidence-based models that I could explore and find the best one that suited me and my context. Being able to accurately reflect within my work context makes me far more responsive to any discriminatory practice that occurs.
Message to anyone wanting to move into forensic mental health nursing
I have a goal to begin my Masters within the area of forensic mental health nursing to support the health and social outcomes of our population and challenge for change to promote better outcomes for this marginalised group. This is a drive within me, but I have felt supported and nurtured by Whitireia to do so.
To any nurse hoping to move into mental health and addiction practice, I would encourage you to make sure you have a good support team around you. It is an honour and a privilege to be with someone in their mental distress, but it can be draining and upsetting, so make sure you take lots of time to look after yourself and find some supportive colleagues you can debrief with regularly. And just remember, you are making a difference, even on days when it doesn’t feel like it.