Podcast: Dr Nita Muir
Dr Nita Muir, our Academic Lead for nursing discusses how our students are contributing to treating patients affected by the coronavirus pandemic – and talks about our nursing offer.
Nita also talks about routes into nursing and the nation’s public display of support for the NHS.
Alternatively, you can read a rough transcript below
During the Corona virus pandemic, NHS staff are getting the appreciation they truly deserve. The NHS heroes are putting their own health on the line to deal with the crisis. This week, I’m joined by Dr Nita, Muir academic lead for nursing at the university. So how are you doing, Nita?
Yeah, we’re doing really well. Today, it’s a lovely sunny day and that makes us feel really positive.
Yeah, absolutely. We’re going to talk about how students’ alumni and staff are contributing to the NHS effort. First of all, can you tell us a bit about your own background?
So, I’m qualified registered nurse. I have clinical experience in the adult field of nursing. I qualified and undertook my initial entry level qualification in Birmingham quite four years ago now. And I practiced there in acute surgical units. And then I moved to America, which for a while there as a registered nurse in Atlanta, in Georgia, which was good fun. Subsequently, I’ve worked in lots of different clinical areas, different levels of acuity. And then more recently, I went into community nursing and became a district nurse and worked as a community nursing sister and then entered into the university setting as an academic over fifteen years ago. It was fantastic. So, I’ve been here at University of Brighton initially as a lecturer, a senior lecturer in our principal lecturer.
So, what was it like actually working in the US compared to working here?
It was very different. Culturally, I think we anticipate the US to be similar to us in terms of language and cultural experiences, but fundamentally they have a very different healthcare system and that was quite a challenge to adapt to. So I worked in an environment that was a public sector and at a time when there was a huge prevalence of HIV and AIDS. The work patterns are very different. Shift patterns very different. Working with others is very different. Culturally it was an insight, but a hugely enjoyable experience.
So, tell us about your role at the university now then, what does that entail?
So, I’m the academic lead for nursing. So, in the school of health sciences, there are various academic leads, that are all professionally orientated. So obviously being a registered nurse, I’m overseeing and leading all our pre-registration nursing programs. So that’s our BCS hons in adult field nursing in Child and BSC Honours in mental health nursing. So, within my team there are 3 excellent course leaders supporting the work. We have around approximately 700 undergraduate students in our program. So, you can see the breadth of activity and our courses are delivered across two campuses, but one at Falmer and one at Eastbourne. So, all students who qualify both as a registered nurse and exit as graduates are supplementing nursing roles across all of East and West Sussex and further afield as well.
Now, we’ve heard about nursing students who have qualified early. So that’s in the news, of course, logistically. How difficult was that to sort out from your end?
Well, we as a nursing profession are overseen by our nursing council nurse and Midwifery Council. That’s our professional regulatory body. On March the 25th, they issued brand new standards. We’re all working and comply with education standards. And from March the 25th, we’ve been working actively at changing curriculum. So, we have seven cohorts of students currently that are going through our program. And our initial activity is really being focusing on all students who are in their final six months of their course. And the aim of that activity is to enable them to be in clinical practice to achieve their remaining elements of the course so they can then achieve all learning outcomes and practice hours to enable them to complete. Currently, we have to ensure that all students also comply with EU directives, which require a certain number of hours. So, our students achieve, three hundred hours of practice learning and 2300 hours of academic learning plus they need to be on a course for a minimum period of time. So now we’re just trying to explore to see how much quickly we can accelerate students through that program. But meanwhile, our students are all out in clinical practice, our final six-month students are in with our partners across all of our local NHS trusts. Now learning and developing their final six months to enable them to qualify safely and successfully.
I mean, I have family members who work the NHS who mentor student nurses and I know by this point they are usually pretty much ready to go anyway, aren’t they? They usually at this point being shadowed actually by the staff members and letting them get on with it?
Yes, that’s right. And part of these new emergency standards has been about how we support our students in practice. So, you are right you used the word shadowing before this point of Covid 19 emergencies our students were undertaking what’s called a supernumerary role in practice, where they were supernumerary to the team and were learning whilst in that work environment. What’s currently happened is the NHS are recognizing how useful and helpful and how skilled, and competent our 3rd year students are in the last six months that they’re offering them jobs. So, they are under employment for the final six months and receiving a salary as well as learning and undertaking quite significant roles in practice. So finally, our students are being fully recognized for the value of work that they can offer to the NHS.
Yeah, I mean, it’s a hugely pressurised situation at the moment, but I imagine at this point for them, a big honour to play a part when they’re needed.
I am absolutely humbled by the students, to be honest, Richard, all our students have been invited to participate into practice learning. None of this is mandatory and so they’re having to make really big decisions, do they want to engage in this practice, particularly if they’ve got loved ones at home that may be at risk or them themselves are at risk and the majority of the students are working in these environments and are wishing to do so. And that’s our final year students but also the same invite is going ahead to our remaining students in the early part of their 3rd year and also our 2nd years as well. And consistently both at the University of Brighton but also across England, there’s over twenty thousand students offering to work and support the NHS. And that’s phenomenal.
It’s a huge decision for the students to make. Obviously, now some of them, as you say, they’re receiving a salary. But, you know, they may not have expected it to be in this situation. There is the situation of having to balance their personal lives, family commitments. They might be living with vulnerable people at a time when they weren’t really expecting to have to make these sorts of decisions.
That’s right. They’re all having to balance and understand what impact is going to have on them. They’ve got their own personal set circumstances, their own health as well. And again, their own academic learning they signed up to a three year course, and particularly the students that are being targeted, these students are in their final year, six months. These are our first students that we’ve had come through nursing that were fee paying prior to that point. All our students were receiving a bursary and they’ve received no support up until this point. So, for them then to still step up and contribute to the NHS and to support the NHS and support the government really is phenomenal. As I’ve said, I’m hugely proud of the students who are taking on these responsibilities and they fully understand their competencies and their proficiency and ability to perform in practice and are really quite experienced students. And whenever anybody goes across the southeast in Sussex, Surrey and Kent, Hampshire, you will meet the University of Brighton Student or Student University of Brighton graduate. That would have come from our School of nursing. And they’re exceptional. All of the students that are doing this.
Obviously, you’ve been at university for a long time yourself and your colleagues must be really proud of the fact that, you know, thousands of people have come through and are working across these trusts, which are within the vicinity of the University of Brighton.
Absolutely. Our students work locally. They work in our local NHS trust, but they’re also working in social and health care situations as well and leading lots of different practices. Nursing doesn’t just occur in an acute setting. Nursing is everywhere. You know, it’s in a range from GP practice up into care homes, nursing homes, health promotion activities. So, you will always find a nurse. Our, Vice-Chancellor, is an ex nurse. So as a career, it’s an amazing career for people to become involved in. And there are lots of opportunities that it does provide. Yes. Well, all of us are hugely proud of all students and hugely proud of the work that they’re doing in our local areas.
I imagine there are academic staff as well working on the front line from this School of Health Sciences.
It’s an interesting issue because, of course, if if many of the team that I work with in the pre-registration nursing team were out in practice, then we can’t support our students either. So, it is a real challenge we do have, there are colleagues of mine out in current practice and these are excellent colleagues usually support our postgraduate program for nurses that are qualified already because obviously they can’t come into university to be taught. So that’s relinquished them from those responsibilities and they have gone back into clinical practice. And these are all ex intensive care nurses and they’ve all gone back into intensive care to support that activity and have been hugely welcomed by our partners as well. And that’s been fantastic that that’s been unable to happen to support the workforce. And again, I’m respectful of those guys being able to do that.
What’s the reaction been like from students who are experiencing the frontline as it keeps being referred to?
Interesting that we have some conversations this morning with students around this. And the students have been, I think, firstly hugely welcomed. And that is hugely rewarding for them to feel part of the team and to feel valued within those roles. And have been supported. The learning has been valued in practice and using the skills that they currently have in a way that can enable them to cope. So, there’s great camaraderie out there. You know, I think there’s something around. As a nurse, when you qualified, you, become part of the family. There’s a sense of belonging into a profession and that continues in all areas throughout your career. And that is wonderful. And students are experiencing that now as they are coming into being that full registrant and having that level of collegiality and support from each other really develops their resilience and it enables them to cope in these situations. But they’re really enjoying it. I think they’re enjoying the opportunity to step up and contribute in this way.
What’s the concern level like from them?
I think before they get into clinical practice, everyone’s anxious. They’ll make very big decisions. I wouldn’t say it’s necessary, particularly to nursing students who are anxious about the courses, about the changes that are happening. I mean, to be clear, we’re having to revise the curriculum for all our students and that causes anxiety in itself, not just the students or staff to. I’m working quite rapidly with these changes so that, yes, students are anxious, but we are supporting them. Our students are going into clinical practice. We’re having regular meetings with them, a strong personal tutoring policy to support students whilst they’re in practice. As you said, they will be supported from registrants as well. So, people are anxious about the unknown. And I think that same as everywhere and everybody. But people have great levels of resilience. And part of our course spent a long time working with students and developing their resilient skills and also about how to gain what they can from placement, learning to develop and use their own skills to enable them to manage and succeed. Because our students are very transient through placements throughout the course and they become quite skilled students by the end of it. So, they do have the skills and ability to cope with these situations.
That fits very well actually into your area of research, doesn’t it?
Yes, it does. I did some work around looking at social cultural practices and how people can engage different practices to learn in work environments. So particularly, I was interested in concepts of reciprocity, in learning and how students and others and anybody in a work environment can learn and develop their skills. And from my research, it identified and this is research done across Europe identified how we can develop pulsation interactions and social connections with each other. And once we develop these social connections and we can learn better and we can learn in a much more collegial and sustainable way. And our know students know this and this is an opportunity for students to exercise those skills. And really, it’s about developing trust between the supervisor, the mentor, the team that the student is in to enable them to be part of that team, be part of the collective, of a collegiate relationship, because once students are coming in, they’re coming in with a lot of knowledge and familiarity of systems and structures. And they can engage in that really well in a way that will enable them to embed themselves within the team. And once they’re in the team and there’s a kinship of togetherness and that really enables a connection that enables them to be more resilient, to cope with the situations and to embed themselves much more in the nursing profession. And so, we’ve been teaching our students around this constantly. And the research that I’ve done illustrates how we can apply that in different situations, in different settings. I think that’s the value of coming into nursing. As I said, it’s a big family. It’s, the year of the nurse 20/20. And this year was an opportunity for us as a nursing profession to start to celebrate nursing and enable us to have a global perspective on promoting the role of the nurse. This perhaps wasn’t the way that we anticipated it turn out.
But, I mean, you know, never I think have nurses and midwives being more appreciated than at this point. So, as you say, it’s the World Health Organization initiative. It’s Florence Nightingale’s bicentennial year.
So, I mean, the campaign looks a lot different now probably than how it was meant to look then when it was being planned. But there is a huge appreciation for the for the nurses and midwives.
Well, absolutely. I think it’s really pushed our profession forward. It’s enabled us to have a really global stage. I mean, it’s been wonderful to sit as a nurse, to see to see on the TV the lead political role of nurses that we’re having insisted. The chief nurse taking questions alongside politicians and the head of the RCN sitting in Question Time. It’s great to see nurses leading and taking political perspectives in this time to promote their profession and to enable us to ensure that our voice is heard. Because often it’s when you hear the narrative of nurses, it’s usually doctors and nurses and nurses are seen as a secondary profession. And really, it’s nurses, a skill with, intelligence graduates that are contributing to caring. And nursing is a compassionate profession. It enables us to support people in in times of vulnerability and in times of need. And nursing is a political profession as well. And I think we need to be promoting that perspective and enable nurses to have more of a voice in these situations. You know, as a profession, we really highly skilled practitioners. We’ve undertaken at least a minimum of a degree; it has taken three years to become a nurse. And for many, it’s a real achievement to have got that degree and then to be able to exercise that an environment that they’re valued is just so wonderful at a point when they’re really needed. And I just hope that that still continues as we move forward. The contribution nursing makes to society is really undervalued, and I think for once recognizing that’s fantastic!
But the virus is obviously so hard for everyone to deal with. But we it is bringing out some of the best of humanity, too. You know, we’ve got the weekly appreciation of the NHS, which many would say, I imagine, especially if you’re in the NHS, it’s well overdue.
Do you think that actually this situation may lead to an increase of people wanting to train to become a healthcare professional?
We’re actually seeing it, Richard. Applications are buoyant to come into nursing at University of Brighton, you know, where we can offer a great program too. People are very interested. They want to be contributing to the NSD. And those that are currently working in the NHS, but also wish to be at a senior level of a registered practitioner. So, applications come from everywhere. I genuinely agree. I think we will have a good interest of future nurses coming through the system, which will be fantastic.
Without getting too political about it, even though we have said, of course, nursing can be a political profession. Do you think all of this will ensure that future governments invest Well, in the NHS?
Yeah, I think yeah, I would hope so. And I think the NHS it’s changed a lot since it was instigated many years ago. That was at a time when there was nothing. And now we’re working with very high expectations from the public in trying to provide and manage health care. That really is very different to how it used to be. So, there’s a huge demand on the NHS and it is finite. You know, the level of funding, though, has dropped in proportion to different countries as a level of GDP. And what we can see is that our NHS system is stretched and challenged. And I think that’s well known across the sector. So, I would hope that there will be more focus on improving the NHS, even if that’s really, around streamlining systems a lot more to enable a lot more reactive service to enable us to respond to these situations. Well, saying that, you know, there’s been an amazing response to the situation the NIGHTINGALE hospital was created within weeks, and that was a huge big response. But that has been through support from the military and other organisations.
It does show that if the money’s put in and if there is the willingness to do something, then it can be done?
I think a combination of both willingness and also, you know, the sheer motivation from the public as well. We can’t underestimate the influence the general public are having on nurses. It is hugely appreciated. People are very emotional. The nurses are very emotional around the fact that we’re being recognised and appreciated in such a manner. And it’s something that it feels quite new to us. But most of my colleagues and myself, we are just completely bowled over with the generosity from the general public and just trying to recognise some of the work that’s been happening.
Well, may that continue. Obviously, you said the applications are buoyant at the moment. It’s a very practical training course. What are the typical routes into nursing?
They’re very varied. So, at the moment, the applications are coming from lots of different areas. We received applications from students directly if they finished college. So, 18-year olds, 19-year olds are directly from A levels or an access course and they’re entering at a young age into coming into nursing. But increasingly, a majority of our student applications are from students over 24. And these students perhaps are doing other roles before they come into nursing or start a family and decided to come into nursing or just really at a point in their lives where they wish to contribute differently to society. So, a real range of people that come through. Some people take a long time to decide that that’s particularly what they want and that’s fine. And others are very keen to come into nursing from a very young age. So, yeah, a real range of different routes that they can apply to. Well, we obviously run the BSE nursing courses here at the University of Brighton. But we also offer another route of nursing. It’s called nursing associate route. And this is a brand-new role that was established a couple of years ago. And we support it here through an apprenticeship. And that’s a two-year role course student exit with a foundation degree and a qualification and a qualification as a nursing associate. And then the second level entry into nursing is becoming a registered nurse, which is usually attached to a BSC nursing course and from next year, that will be an apprenticeship route. Once you become a nurse, there’s lots of opportunities to undertake further education and further development up to master’s and PHD level as well. So, once you’ve decided to become a nurse the career opportunities are really quite vast.
I mean, the usual demographic as you were saying, it can often be it’s not the typical undergraduate student, is it? Usually maybe slightly older. They are people that have had more time to think about what profession they’d like to go into.
Yeah, absolutely. We’ve had applications from I mean, I’ve taught students that used to be opera singers. We’ve had doctoral students come through, chemists, physicists. Obviously, people with nursing and care backgrounds as well. HR, banking, you know, from all walks of life, really, and bringing in those life skills really is hugely helpful. Coming into nursing with some experience really, really frames their ability to achieve in the course as well. And you know, we’ve had students over 60. There’s no age range to it. There’s no limit. It really is open to everyone if they meet the requirements that they can demonstrate the capacity to become a nurse essentially and have all the academic requirements to enter.
Overall, if I was to ask you why someone should train to become a nurse? What would be your answer?
Well, we don’t train nurses. We educate nurses. And we are wanting people to come in and contribute to a fantastic profession. Nursing enables you to make a difference. I think we’ll be the best, in summary. To be able to make a difference in somebodies’ life at a time of vulnerability. When we talk about nursing and caring, we’re talking about all through life, really, whether it’s as a baby all the way through to today to the dying moments. And that really the longevity of a lifespan, I think is the most attractive element when you decide to come into nursing. So personally, for me, I thoroughly enjoyed working lots different environments and enjoyed the challenge of nursing them and developing relationships with people. For me, it’s all about the people and the patient and working with the patients and feeling that what you’re doing on a daily basis is really making that difference to that individual community or even at a higher political level to wider people as well. And knowing I can achieve that every day has been really my motivation throughout my career.
Great stuff, we will put the links to the course pages in this podcast description, we end every podcast with some questions completely away from what we’ve been talking about. The same in every episode. So, the first one is what advice would you give to your younger self?
I think my younger self; I would probably tell myself to be patient and take opportunities when they arise. I think sometimes I’ve been hesitant to take opportunities. I think to take a few risks here and there!
If you could pick any other subject to study at the University of Brighton again, what might it be?
I think that through nursing or through my career, I have become much more interested in global health and trying to understand it. I looked this up, Richard. Globalization, history, politics and structure in the School of Humanities.
I look forward to your application. Could you pick a favourite place in Sussex?
Ok. Well, I live in Mid Sussex, so I would say Mid Sussex is probably the best place to be. Everything is within an hour away, even into London, in and out, really easy. So, I particularly enjoy the South Downs way and I’m from the north of England region. So, I’m very used to doing lots of walks and jumping around. So that’s what we enjoy doing.
And if you could give visitors to Brighton and Eastbourne and the area a tip of what to do or experience if they are down here. Let’s pretend all the restrictions are off. What would that be?
Well, as you say, I mean, Eastbourne is a big campus as well for the School of Health Sciences. So that’s a lovely place to be. And I think sometimes people just focus on Brighton, but actually Brighton is such a small part of Sussex. And whilst Brighton offer, its own unique experience in many, many ways. But certainly, other areas are great too Eastbourne is beautiful, really. There’s lots of interesting areas to go there. But I think specifically for Brighton it would have to be the pavilions. I think it’s the quirkiest place I’ve ever been.
If there’s something interesting about you that’s a lot of people may not know?
I ran my first half marathon last year and I did it with my dog.
Really? Where was that?
It was on the South Downs way and it was with a small group of people. It was a small company called Idealic Running. So basically, you run with your dog and your dogs attached to you as she helps you along the hills. She loves it and I love it. And it’s a great opportunity to be outside running with the dog and chatting. It suits me.
And finally, if you could pick three people to host at a dinner party, who would they be and why?
Well, Richard, you’re speaking to me in week for week five of lockdown. So, I would have to say it would be my family because we’ve just come out through Easter, which we would normally see family. My mum, my dad, my parents, and my extended family because I’m here with my immediate family. And so, I would have to say it would have to be the people we didn’t see at Easter because I am missing them.