Student Shared Professional Decision-Making: The Student Councils Programme

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Jess Sainsbury
Head of Nursing and Midwifery Engagement, Florence Nightingale Foundation

On Thursday 9 March #TeamFNF hosted the latest Student Council Meeting for the Student Councils Programme in the South East of England. Students, stakeholders and supporters gathered for a day of collective discussion, networking and action planning. Our Head of Nursing and Midwifery Engagement Jess Sainsbury has led this work stream and shares her reflections on the evolution of the student voice.

Three years ago in March 2020 I was acutely aware of the importance and requirement of a strong network of student leaders, advocates and communicators. At the time I was Chair of the RCN Students Committee and we were being consulted on the student response to the coronavirus pandemic. The student voice had never been so needed at a national level yet we were limited in our reach to the masses of student nurses across the country. In collaboration with other student networks and through the use of social media platforms we were able to provide decision-makers with a breadth of student views and offer critical challenge when necessary.

Fast forward to March 2023 and I have facilitated the largest and most diverse regional student council meeting for the south east region of England to date. Health Education England (South East) have commissioned FNF to establish six multi-professional (student nurses, midwives, allied health professionals and trainee nursing associates) for the region, with a long-term plan for each integrated care system (ICS) to take ownership of the councils. On a quarterly basis we bring the six councils together to provide updates on activities, network in person with stakeholders, identify themes regarding the student experience across the south east, and most importantly plan next steps. In-between these quarterly regional meetings each ICS Student Council meets virtually to discuss local issues and good practice as well as attend stakeholder meetings that align with their objectives.

On Thursday each ICS Student Council used their leadership (and RADA) skills and delivered 15 minute presentations on their advocacy work to a large room of peers, stakeholders and supporters. They answered questions confidently and authentically, and I am so proud of their professionalism. Supporting student council members through professional development has been a high priority in this work and the regional meetings are an opportunity to do so: the South East RePAIR Fellows Katie and Mary joined us to deliver a session on appreciative enquiry. The focus of the afternoon was on next steps and action planning.

Two topics had been identified as a theme from the ICS meetings and were tabled for discussion at regional: student wellbeing and the cost-of-living crisis. Student council members Gabby from the BOB ICS and Natasha from the HIOW ICS introduced the topics and then the floor was open for the room to shine a light on good practice and suggest next steps in these areas. My role as facilitator was easy here as it was apparent that the room was full of individuals who truly want to improve the student experience and ultimately patient care. It was at this moment that I took a mental picture of what was happening in front of me as after nearly two years working on this project I could see the impact true student shared professional decision-making can have.

The student councils programme is unique due to support that is offered to council members, the safety that is enabled, the sponsorship from senior leaders, and the facilitation of a culture of sharing and shining a light. I am looking forward to sharing insights and learning via our evaluation of the establishment of the student shared professional decision-making councils. FNF is able to support the creation of similar opportunities for students and provide advice for those supporting students in similar endeavours, please do get in touch if you would like to know more.

A pandemic should not be the motivation for strategic student voice. Student voice should be business as usual and I intend to continue to champion the need for it as without support, safety, sponsorship and sharing we will not retain our future workforce. There are many leaders in the Florence Nightingale community who value and seek out the student voice in their work, organisations and decision-making. We have all walked in their shoes as students yet understand the importance of hearing from those living through the student experience right now.

At FNF our work with student nurses and midwives is growing, as you can be a leader at any stage of your career. The easiest way to get involved is through membership of the FNF Academy. I’ve recently written a blog which goes into more detail about our #FNFStudents activities, do give it a read and share this blog to reach as many people as possible. Keep up to date with all things FNF Students on social media via our hashtag #FNFStudents.

Student Council Members and Stakeholders on stage at Union Street