Going on clinical placement is challenging for both male and female nursing students. But I write here about female student nurses who go into clinical placements while juggling childcare, assessments, work and family alongside other responsibilities. You can only imagine how challenging it is to manage all this in the complex world that we live in. Now, add a mix of period pain.
OK, you get it, right?
Seriously, I was once a student nurse and now associate dean for education and student engagement, student engagement expert, and the founder of RAMHHE, the responsive, dynamic, and novel student engagement strategy for wider participation in diverse activities, that seeks to raise awareness of mental health in higher education. So, I interact with a lot of nursing students about their learning experiences.
According to the students, period pain triggers what can be referred to as situational mental health experiences students narrate as feelings of anxiety, depression, and helplessness in addition to the period pain, while walking past a poster, or reading another article about menopause support. With their consent, here are some of their experiences
- Female student: ‘I could not go in last week and it made me very anxious.’
- Female student: ‘I am feeling depressed again as I anticipate the pain while on clinical placement.’
- Female student: ‘I am going to an adult setting for 12 weeks, which will involve a lot of bending with pain, I am already anxious.’
- Female student: ‘I don’t know how to tell my manager.’
- Josephine: ‘Why?’
- Female student: ‘Because he is a man and I do not know if he will understand.’
Those are some of my conversations with female students who do not know what to do about the new wave of ‘let us talk about menopause’ that has taken over clinical placements, workplaces, universities, social media, etc. I am very aware of how situation mental health experiences can impact students’ learning experiences and outcomes.
Yet, these days, every week not much is left out about how important it is to remember the impact of menopause on women., So, I ask: has the narrative about menopause overtaken that of period pain?
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for this extremely important topic and I am surprised at how there are hardly any fans or air conditioners in some offices, acute mental health wards, GP surgeries, pharmacies, etc. I understand that the need for cooler air may not be a one-size-fits-all, but it could certainly be a one-size-fits-some.
So, we must support menopause, but please let us balance the conversation. After all, before menopause, there was period pain.
Are we doing enough to recognise the impact of period pains on the mental health of female student nurses on clinical placements?
Back to female nursing students and period pains. Seriously, menopause is continuous for some, and period pain is a few days a month for some too, so they are not comparable, but it doesn’t mean that one should receive more attention than the other. OK, fair enough; the NHS provides additional information. All I am saying is that we should consider placing a bit more attention on period pain as part of our curriculum, yes as part of learning and teaching both on campus and in clinical placement so that female student nurses can feel empowered to talk about an issue that is clearly affecting their learning outcomes, and their mental health albeit situationally.
Seriously though, we must think about how to support students on placements. As I say, inclusive university space, inclusive clinical placement spaces.
So what’s my call for action? Period pains are disabling and should be recognised as such, especially as they impact women’s abilities to carry out their activities of daily living although they are not considered long-term disabilities, female students and other female health professionals require support at work when experiencing period pains. So, clinical placements could consider period pain nurses or female senior healthcare assistants/advocates.
Use posters to create similar groups, such as the ones used for the menopause groups. For example, year 1 mental health or learning disabilities period pain peer support group, clinical placement support groups, and University Support Group. Use in-house communication mediums to highlight the importance of speaking up if period pains are disabling your learning experience and you need support. Put up posters to inform nursing students of where and how to access help. Make period pain a support priority for positive learning outcomes.
Simply put, universities must bring the conversations about period pains to where female student nurses are, and where they can access information about support services easily.
Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi, PhD is the Associate Dean for Education and Student Experience for Nursing and Midwifery in the Institute of Health and Social Care at the London South Bank University.