Positive Choices Conference 2019 (student review)

One hundred years! Who would have guessed learning disability nursing has been around for that long? We recently had the privilege of hosting the two-day Positive Choices conference and celebrating this milestone. The couple of days had a schedule jam-packed with celebration, reflection, networking, talks from professionals in the field and people with learning disabilities, groovy moves on the dance floor and – of course – cake! As a first-year Learning Disability Nursing student, I couldn’t have chosen a better time to make a start in this profession. 

Sarah Kigozi with fellow student

Leading up to the event, all of our Learning Disability Nursing students from across the three years had the opportunity to come together and exchange tips, share news and get to know each other while filling the goodie bags for the conference delegates (rewarded with pizza!)

On the first day I had assisted and liaised with visiting stall holders representing charities, NHS Foundation Trusts, private, independent organisations and publishers specialising in the field of learning disability nursing. The whole experience opened my eyes and widened my horizons to the sheer number of organisations I could potentially work with once I qualify and graduate.

Later that afternoon, following a rehearsal for our attempt for the Guinness World Record for the largest Makaton choir, we were chauffeured to the H Suite about a mile and a half from our City South Campus. This was where the partying took place! Entertainment was delivered by Pick 'n Mix dance group, birthdays were celebrated, delicious Asian cuisine was eaten and music records spun by the award-winning, autism-friendly DJ Jay

Makaton world record attempt

The second day commenced with attempting the Guinness World Record for the largest Makaton choir. After that, a variety of messages and speeches from the likes of Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England, an amazing performance by MiXiT, which is an inclusive drama and singing company, and an emotional address from Paula McGowan, the mother of Oliver McGowan, a young man who had a diagnosis of autism and a mild learning disability who died after he was given anti-psychotic medication. We were transported to the past as we learned about the historical treatment of people with learning disabilities. We focused on Ivy, a British born woman who had learning disabilities and was victim of the T4 programme, the Nazi euthanasia initiative where people with disabilities were systematically killed. This was one example of how the eugenics ideology of eliminating society’s ‘defects’ had been put into practice.

On the second and final evening, recognition awards for achievements and personal development were given out to members of Shiners and gratitude and praise was showered on staff, organisers and of course all the attendees. The conference was 18 months in the planning and we were so proud – and relieved – to deliver it successfully.

Ruth May delivers keynote speech

The conference inspired and encouraged me, clarifying the reason why, for me, learning disability nursing is the best type of nursing. I feel the future is bright and full of opportunities – all I need to do is make the most of them. It has silenced my unconscious doubts: is learning disability nursing diverse in terms of areas of work, job opportunities and the possibility to continue to progress and specialise? From attending the conference I am positive the answer to this is YES in capital letters!

Having relocated from London to Birmingham without having family or friends here prior to starting university, at times I have previously found myself questioning if the move was the right one. I now have many friends here and the conference has only reinforced this. The warmth and togetherness I experienced during the planning, assisting with and attending the conference helped me truly understand the welcoming aura of the lovely enormous family I am part of – the learning disability nursing profession family. Meeting the second, third years and visiting students was a reassuring encounter as they too were once first year students and are now halfway way through or about to graduate and were proof that I too can do it! Listening to their experiences and advice has helped me feel more knowledgeable about how to best prepare for my second year during the summer. Going forward, I will strive to live in the moment, learn as much as I can, share as much as I can recall and enjoy every moment of the journey of being a learning disability student nurse.

Sarah at conference

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