Encouraging healthcare students to engage with dementia

‘It’s good for students to start with a community perspective as most people with health conditions are community based’ – Professor Lesley Baillie, Dementia Friends Champion

Healthcare professionals at universities across England and Wales are encouraging their students to become Dementia Friends as part of their studies. We chat to the Dementia Friends Champions who are delivering the Sessions, to find out what kind of impact they are having.

Dementia Friends for healthcare professionals

After conducting some research which highlighted that healthcare students were poorly prepared to care for people living with dementia, Professor Lesley Baillie of London Southbank University decided to do something about it. With some colleagues, Lesley trained as a Dementia Friends Champion with the goal of embedding Dementia Friends Sessions into the induction schedule for the students of the school. Lesley sees a range of benefits to students becoming Dementia Friends at the start of their studies. Lesley says:

‘It ensures all students start their courses with an understanding of key messages about dementia and dispelling any myths they may have acquired. In my previous research I found that a third of  nursing students had no experience of dementia at all before they started the course.’

Lesley goes on to say that ‘healthcare students are large in number and will be seen as a source of information by family and friends. Therefore being Dementia Friends has potential to impact their communities and circle outside the university.’

Karyn Davies is a senior lecturer at the University of South Wales and in an effort to increase engagement with dementia across the students and faculty, has encouraged lecturers, colleagues and students to become Dementia Friends. In fact, as Karyn tells us, ‘all undergraduate nursing and midwifery students now become Dementia Friends before they go out onto their first placements – this is now mandatory and a number of students have become Dementia Friends Champions – the idea being that students will raise awareness among other students.’

Karyn thinks it’s important for students to become Dementia Friends because:

‘Lots of our students are completely new to healthcare and their first placement is all about fundamentals of care generally, working with older people. Dementia Friends sits well in the first theoretical block before clinical practice and we have given it the same importance as clinical skills sessions.’

The response from the students has, in Karyn’s experience, been really positive with many going on to read more about the issue, discuss it with fellow students and even use it as a springboard to really focus on dementia going forward.

Gayle Hazelby has also seen the impact that the Dementia Friends Sessions can have on students at Sheffield Hallam University when it is built into their studies.

As a nurse Gayle has seen examples of where care is lacking and feels that she ‘needs to contribute to changing this poor practice’. Gayle is now a nurse lecturer and saw Dementia Friends as a good starting point to raise awareness of dementia for those starting out their nursing careers.

Dementia Friends for healthcare professionals

At Gayle’s Sessions, students have pledged to challenge poor practice that they see, promote awareness within care settings and be advocates for people affected by dementia. As well as the benefit the Sessions have for those affected by dementia, Gayle also sees a professional benefit for the students, as it will:

‘Prepare them for caring and supporting people living with dementia who are receiving hospital and community care services. We have suggested that becoming a Dementia Friend would be a positive addition to their CV and would further evidence their professional values and attitudes.’

The biggest difference Dr Sue Barker of Cardiff University has seen in her students, since introducing Dementia Friends Sessions to the start of their studies, has been their ‘enthusiasm and desire to work with people with dementia.’ Sue says that some of the students also pledged some more personal actions at the end of the Sessions, such as ‘be more patient, offer more assistance…visiting family members with dementia and take time to listen and try to think about the what the other person’s perspective may be.’

‘I think it is an excellent and positive way to introduce dementia to healthcare professionals; we are very prone to see the problems rather than the person. There is a current outcry for compassionate person centered care and I believe that Dementia Friends can start them on this journey which will enhance their studies and career opportunities.’

Karyn Davies, Senior Lecturer, Mental Health Nursing, University of South Wales

Professor Lesley Baillie, Florence Nightingale Foundation Chair of Clinical Nursing Practice, London South Bank University

Dr Sue Barker, Cardiff University

Gayle Hazelby, Senior Lecturer – SCPHN Health Visiting / Public Health Nursing, Sheffield Hallam University

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