Service user involvement in an undergraduate nursing programme

Date27 January 2020
Published date27 January 2020
AuthorEleanor Jack
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Mental health,Mental health education
Service user involvement in an
undergraduate nursing programme
Eleanor Jack
Purpose The purposeof this study is to highlight the impacts that service user involvementcan have on
the education of UK undergraduate student mental health nursesboth personally and professionally. It
reports the findings from a short module evaluation of a collaboratively delivered theory unit using a
Design/methodology/approach The study reports the findingsfrom a short module evaluation of a
collaborativelydelivered theory unit usinga qualitative approach embracingtwo focus groups.
Findings The findings from the two focus groups highlight that the service user input (expert by
experience) offered a positive learning experience for the students, enabled them to appreciate the
meaning of recovery andhope and facilitated the identification of the importanceof their role in terms of
connecting meaningfully with those they are supporting and reconsidering key priorities for practice.
They also suggest that there is theory/practice gap reduction as students were able to connect the
serviceuser narratives to the evidence base for deeper understandingand application.
Research limitations/implications Although only a brief evaluationof a short theory module within a
wider programme involving a small number of participants, the findings echo the wider literature and
offers furtherrationale to support direct service userinvolvement within mental health educationacross all
healthcareprofessions. This finding is alsorelevant, as, increasingly, learning/teachingprogrammes now
seek to implement blended learning with significant online teaching and less face-to-facefacilitation of
Practical implications This study highlights not only the positive impact of service user input on
health-care education but also the benevolent influence skilled narratives can have as a pedagogical
approachto learning.
Originality/value Although there is much in the literature as to the benefits for student learning in
involvingservice users within higher education instituteeducation, there is limited informationas to ‘‘how’’
and ‘‘why’’ thisis the case, this article seeks to bridge that gap.
Keywords Service user involvement, Mental health education, Nurse education
Paper type Case study
This article is a case study describing the findings of a brief module evaluation of a
delivered taught unit as part of an undergraduate teaching programme which
meaningfully involved serviceusers as part of the collaborative delivery.
1. Background
An undergraduate Mental Health Nursing Programme (BSc Hons) at a higher education
institute (HEI) in the South of England (UK) leads to professional registration with the UK
Nursing and Midwifery Council and currently delivers six assessed units per academic year
over the three years programme. Each unit is in alignment with, and reflective of, the
students’ concurrent learning experience in practice. Before the most recent curriculum
rewrite in 2018, the third year of the programme required the students to undertake a six-
day unit focussing on caring for those with severe and enduring mental health issues. The
Eleanor Jack is based at
the Faculty of Health and
Social Sciences,
Bournemouth University,
Poole, UK.
Received 30 December 2018
Revised 27 August 2019
30 October 2019
Accepted 16 December 2019
DOI 10.1108/JMHTEP-12-2018-0073 VOL. 15 NO. 3 2020, pp. 125-140, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1755-6228 jTHE JOURNAL OF MENTAL HEALTHTRAINING, EDUCATION AND PRACTICE jPAGE 125
core aim of this unit to enable the students to develop a critical understanding of the
relevant current evidence- based therapeutic approaches. The teaching team for this unit
included a mental health lecturer practitioner (LP) alongside three experts by experience/
service users (SU), plus a mental health lecturer/researcher (L). All stakeholders contributed
to the development and teaching for the unit, with SUs comfortable with their role being
(self) described as SUs, patients, clients or experts by experience, depending on their
individual preference and common usagewithin the programme.
As within all HEIs in the UK, studentevaluation and feedback regarding the teaching unitsis
a core dimension of the ongoing educational quality monitoring systems.Previously, for this
unit, student feedback was sought after eachtaught day whereby it became very evident to
the teaching team that the most enthusiastic and positive feedback followed those sessions
led and delivered by the SUs. These 1-2 h interactive narrative sessions were offered on
each of the six teaching days, inclusiveof time for questions and feedback.
Mindful, as to the plethora of robust evidence confirming SU input into educational courses
for health and social care professionals as a positive pedagogical strategy (Happell and
Bennetts, 2016;Arblaster et al., 2015;Happell et al., 2014;Blackhall et al.,2012), the
teaching team was not surprised as to this finding; however, there was an agreed case for
further exploration to identify why SU input was significant in this unit for learning, plus also
what impact this learning may have upon students for both their academic and professional
development and practice.
In the UK, it is mandatory to include SUs within health-carecurricula [Nursing and Midwifery
Council, 2010; Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), 2014;Department of Health
(2012),Rhodes (2012);Francis (2013),NHS England (2015)]. Indeed, as stated by
Simpson et al. (2008), since the 1990s, service user involvement has been deemed
important for health professionals education, particularly for nursing (Department of Health,
2006), thus echoing social work education which made this facet mandatory during
development of the degree programmes with Askheim et al. (2017) suggested
mainstreaming service user participation in all stages of health-care education. The
contemporary literature base suggests, particularly for mental health education, SU
involvement to include sharing experiences of the recovery model/philosophy of mental
health care and strength-based approaches to care, thus highlighting the need to focus on
the client not service provision. More currently, the work of Horgan et al. (2018) articulates
that involvement of service users in education has now progressed not only within curricula
but also to the (limited) appointment of service user academics (Happell et al.,2014).
Inclusion of service users in professional education is reported as positively influencing
student’s attitudes, enhancing communication skills and successfully exploring student’s
misconceptions about mental illness (Perry et al., 2013;Happell et al., 2015). Drawing from
UK social work education, as Beresford (1994) also identified, involvement of service users
in education can change the culture of both workers and organisations. In the UK, social
work education has embraced service users since the 1980s and was pivotal in ensuring
their inclusion into social work degree programmes from 2003 to include student
recruitment, curriculumdesign and assessment.
Given the awareness of the above and previous positive feedback, the team decided to
undertake a different moduleevaluation to explore in more depth how and why the SU input
was viewed so positively. Limited resources guided the project in many ways, for example,
availability/access to the students within the programme and time availability of the team
with other commitments; therefore, the team decided to undertake a revised module
evaluation as a scholarlyactivity within their own time.
It should be noted that, as part of the teaching team, the SUs chose to use storytelling to
share their experiences of mental health services and mental ill-health/distress within the
sessions. The SUs were experienced facilitators of learning and elected the content, style

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