At UTS, learning doesn’t just occur within classrooms. Communication student Madelyn Lines reveals how casual work with the Faculty of Health has helped her understand the importance of empathy and helped students become better nurses, too.
Human beings are storytellers by nature. Through sharing our stories we’re able to connect, empathise and build relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. These skills are, of course, important in all industries, but particularly in nursing.
Why? Australia has an increasingly ethno-culturally, linguistically and socio-demographically diverse population to care for. So it’s crucial for nursing students to be able to identify, understand and engage with these differences as much as it is for them to use their clinical skills.
Patients are people with real lives that extend beyond the hospital setting and their current health condition. Their distinct histories, family connections and emotional experiences are all part of the package that nurses need to be mindful of in order to provide the best possible care.
We all want, and deserve, to be recognised and have our voices heard particularly when we are at our most vulnerable. This is especially the case for people in marginalised groups, whose poor health can be an added disadvantage on top of the discrimination they may already face in their everyday lives.
Over the last year, I’ve been employed to work on the Digital Stories of Diversity project. The project, which was funded by a 2016 UTS First Year Experience Grant, was supervised by subject coordinator Dr Tamara Power. It was my job to manage the entire project – from brainstorming the types of participants we profiled with the academics, recruiting interviewees, conducting and shooting the interviews, and, finally, to the editing and production phase.
Starting this month, first-year nursing students in the subject Communication and Diversity will watch the videos online before attending tutorials. The videos will be used to spark discussions on issues like communication, cultural safety, social justice, stereotypes and respecting alternate worldviews. The aim is to combine narrative-based learning with multimedia to expose the students to other people’s authentic views and experiences of healthcare. They’ll also provide nursing students with insights into the difficulties people from diverse backgrounds (including their own classmates) may face.
In the workplace, nurses are required to care for all kinds of people – from young children to the elderly, abled-bodied and disabled people, overweight, underweight, non-native English speakers or people who don’t speak any English at all. Patients will present with a range of physical and psychological illnesses and healthcare needs that require short-term and ongoing treatment. Nurses need to be able to adapt.
The reality is no person exists without bias. The only way to free ourselves from the confines of our own biases is to recognise them and be mindful of how they impact our interactions with groups and individuals, in both personal and professional settings.
In making the Digital Stories of Diversity videos, I spoke with chaplains who have worked in hospitals representing people of Jewish, Islamic, Catholic and Buddhist beliefs. I met a young woman who spent her youth as one of the primary carers of her brother with severe Down Syndrome. I spoke with a lesbian couple who told me about their interactions with medical professionals from the time their daughters were conceived and throughout their journey as same-sex parents. I also interviewed two UTS nursing graduates who were able to offer their unique perspectives as a patient, a carer and as health practitioners.
“Patients are people with real lives that extend beyond the hospital setting and their current health condition”
After conducting more than a dozen interviews and producing four video clips for the project, I can say with certainty that this has been my most comprehensive and worthwhile professional experience yet. Largely autonomous during the whole process, I learned to consider the impact of my decision-making on the project as a whole and be accountable for those decisions that would determine the quality of the final product.
It also gave me the opportunity to actualise the skills I have acquired through my studies in communication and international studies. Prior to the project, I had some experience conducting interviews during my in-country study major research project in Chile in 2015. But conducting interviews in my mother tongue, with Australian interviewees, brought an array of new challenges.
How can I talk about issues that I don’t understand? Which topics might make my interviewees uncomfortable and how should I react if I accidentally offend them?
Time and again my interviewees said to never be afraid to ask questions. With good intentions and respect, communicating with people about their needs and preferences is always preferred.
Still, I was often confronted by discussions on sensitive topics and challenged by realisations of my own ignorance, incorrect assumptions, my privilege and even, on occasion, prejudice.
I no longer take for granted the fact that I am able to walk on my own two feet and climb the stairs to attend my lectures on the third floor. I am fortunate that my physical body corresponds with my gender identity and therefore I do not face difficulties having that identity accepted by society. I understand that for some people, cultural rituals, spiritual practices and religious beliefs are of more importance than the recommendations of the Western healthcare system, particularly when it comes to decisions surrounding invasive procedures and the use of life support devices and other medical technologies.
As a current student, the opportunity to work on a project that enabled me to develop my own professional skills as well as contribute to the learning experience of other students has been incredible. I have a greater appreciation for the need to give voice and visibility to marginalised groups who are often disadvantaged and discriminated against in ways that people in dominant groups wouldn’t even consider.
I have also learned the value of doing work that is meaningful beyond salary or opportunities for career advancement. I feel extremely proud to be part of a project that celebrates diversity and contributes to the creation of a more accepting, equitable and inclusive society.
And I hope that the nursing students who engage with these digital storytelling resources will be able to develop their own empathy, respect and understanding as much as I have.