Kaitlin Shortland, who started her nursing degree at the University of Northampton (UON) in September, has been on clinical placement gaining work experience at St Andrew’s where she worked for six weeks.
Clinical staff at the Northampton hospital were so impressed with her standard of work she has been named the Mental Health Nursing Student of the Year.
The accolade is even more impressive as only a few years ago, Kaitlin was unable to leave her own house because of her own mental health struggles.
The 19-year-old said: “I had always been an anxious child. People made me nervous and I always wanted to be in my comfort zone – I almost had a meltdown when things were changed.
“This continued for years, although I was misdiagnosed as having a physical ailment. This resulted in a lot of frustration for both me and my parents, who are two of the most supportive and understanding people I have ever known.
“Things came to a head when I was about 15. I was unable to leave the house at this point and was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, which explained why I had persistent stomach upsets, but no physical problems.”
The diagnosis came as a relief to Kaitlin and her family, although it has only been recently that Kaitlin has been able to talk about her own experience which she attributes to the mental health nurse who treated her at the time.
She said: “I was really struggling and was put under the Child and Adolescent Mental Health team. I distinctly remember how the mental health nurse who visited me at home made me feel everything would be OK and that we, together, would put Kaitlin before the diagnosis.
“They had everything planned but most of all I felt safe and, for the first time, that things were in order. I was facing the prospect of never leaving the four walls around me, never going back into education. Suddenly, the world opened up and my life could get going again.”
Four years on and Kaitlin’s experience inspired her to start a UON degree in nursing.
She added: “I never knew there were people like my mental health nurse who could help me and I felt such relief after meeting them, but I knew soon after that I wanted to do the same for someone else.”
She has been doing exactly that, working with experiences staff at St Andrew’s where her work has been praised.
Ged Rogers, Clinical Education Manager, said: “From day one, Kaitlin’s work has been of an extremely high standard. Her commitment, confidence and competence has made it very hard to believe that she is only a first year, second placement student nurse.
“Kaitlin has consistently shown care and compassion for our patients. She is highly reliable and puts herself forward at every opportunity so she can seek further experience, which she recognises expands her skills and knowledge.
“She will make an exceptional nurse as she listens intently and observes experienced staff before showcasing what she has learnt when carrying out her own duties. Not only does Kaitlin perform at a standard expected from a third year student she is polite, courteous and a pleasure to work with.”
Speaking of the award, Kaitlin said: “I have got a real buzz from being at St. Andrew’s, when I see care through from start to finish. When I heard I had won the award, it officially confirmed to me that nursing is what I should be doing. My Mum was bursting with pride as was my Dad and siblings; they know I’m in a good place and turning a bad experience into something good.
“Sometimes, they talk to me about friends or colleagues they think are having mental health problems and I give them advice about things they can say and places they can direct people to. Once you open a family up to this side of life/wellbeing, it ripples out and they can all get involved in spreading the word about how we all need good mental health.”
Find out more about the Mental Health Nursing degree at the University of Northampton here.