Let’s make Northern Ireland Dementia Friendly TOGETHER.


By Stephanie Craig

Registered Nurse and PhD student working with a team of researchers at QUB to learn the experiences of people living with dementia in a Dementia Friendly Community.

We all must work together to support people with dementia to make Northern Ireland a Dementia Friendly Community. A place where people with dementia can feel safe and supported.

As a second-year nursing student at Queen’s University Belfast I found my niche in dementia research through an Alzheimer’s Society student scholarship. This gave me an inside into research, I was hooked from the start. This naturally led me into wanting a career in research where I could help more people, this led me nicely into my PhD studies at QUB.

Stephanie Craig

Every three seconds, someone in the world develops dementia and over 55 million people worldwide are living with dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide spectrum of progressive neurological illnesses, with over 200 subcategories. This disorder can affect people’s capacity to retain and absorb information, which can disrupt numerous daily activities of living such as dressing, cooking, driving, shopping, and telling the time. This indicates to us that a person with dementia may require more assistance in daily tasks from family, friends, children, or members of the community.

Through my PhD study I am going to be looking at dementia friendly community’s or DFCs and the experiences people with dementia have in these settings. A DFC is a place where people with dementia are recognised, valued, and supported. These places are key in helping people with dementia to live well and stay active members of their communities. Dementia friendliness is a worldwide initiative aimed at supporting people to live well, it is an ethos to assist people with dementia in achieving their maximum possible quality of life, remaining empowered, understanding their rights, and realising their full potential.

This 3-year study which began in October 2021  will see us working with people living with dementia from various charity groups in Northern Ireland such as Dementia NI and The Alzheimer’s Society. Our plan is to identify the impact DFCs have on the day- to- day lives of people living with dementia, uncover characteristics of interventions that may support people living with dementia and explore the possible facilitators and barriers to DFCs’ long-term sustainability.

We want to create awareness and help people realise their role within the community to help support people with dementia.  This starts with reducing the stigma and creating awareness within the public. I was part of a team of researchers aimed at improving dementia care. We developed a Dementia Awareness Game for adults and a Dementia Kids Awareness Game as we believe this encourages adults and children to view dementia in a more positive way, with the hope of assisting people in living well with dementia in the community.

We think by creating awareness of Dementia within the public we can actively help contribute to making Northern Ireland a Dementia Friendly Community for those living with Dementia. Let’s create awareness together- play the games and tell us what you think!

If you would like further infomation pleaseemail Stephanie at: scraig22@qub.ac.uk

My Top 10 tips for doing summative assessments on Canvas Quizzes



Dr Katherine MA Rogers

Student evaluations indicate that they like quizzing as a means of gauging their progress, revision and ongoing study.  As a Senior Lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, I have been using multiple choice questions (MCQs) in summative assessments for over 10 years.   

Running summative assessments remotely using Canvas Quizzes for the first time during the pandemic was daunting!  Since May 2021, I have successfully coordinated 1027 summative assessments taken in Canvas Quizzes, so as we accelerate towards another season of assessments, I thought it was timely to share my top 10 tips for using Canvas Quizzes in summative assessments: 

  1. Practice, practice, practice – for students and staff. I spent a lot of time playing around with the Quiz function.  For staff this involves setting up Question Banks and Quizzes, and creating different types of questions.  For students – they should be encouraged to use the Quizzes to become familiar with the system in the exam setting.
  1. Know your assessment platform! Being very familiar with how Canvas Quizzes worked helped me to anticipate problems and answer student questions quickly. I am on first name terms with several of the excellent QUB Canvas Support Team!  I created a set-up checklist which helped me to ensure I had all parameters covered for my first official exam in Canvas Quizzes.
  1. Ask students what they would like. Based on the student feedback I set up several versions of a mock exam: timed and untimed, single attempt quiz and multiple attempts.  This allowed students to take ownership of how they used the Quizzes in their revision, study and exam preparation. 
  1. Provide plenty of guidance, through a variety of media, well in advance – checklists, screenshots, live videos (but keep these quite short). I have screencast videos of accessing the exam under exam conditions, navigating the system and how we review the exam – in real-time (while the exam is underway) and for post-exam moderation. The videos (linked below) are stored in Mediasite and I use them for all my modules. Students find these very useful as part of their preparation for the exam.  
  1. Be transparent with students – show them what we see and how we use the system for post-exam scrutiny (see point 4). 
  1. Mimic exam conditions in practice sessions. This also links with point 4.  Towards the end of the module, I gave surprise Quizzes in class that were scaled-down versions of the final exam (in terms of time and question number but with different questions). Students really liked these practice Quizzes and despite being a surprise, asked me to do more. 
  1. Keep a summative exam quiz unpublished for as long as possible – For security reasons, I left it until the day before to publish my first Canvas Quizzes exam; I also left it until the day before to link the Question Bank to the exam.  
  1. Put exam questions into a Question Bank and set up a new Question Bank for each new the exam. I am a hoarder, so I like the idea of always having the exact exam questions saved separately.  This way, you will always have a record of the questions for the specific exam sitting and it allows for precise statistical analysis of the cohort performance. 
  1. Keep an open channel of communication during the exam.  On the night before the first exam I had a brainwave: open a Teams meeting during the exam as a direct line of contact to me!  No one needed to use it for technical issues but several joined at the end to discuss the exam.  They were very positive about the reassurance it provided during the exam.  Obviously, this is irrelevant when holding exams on-campus, but it is an option for live, online remote exams.
  1. From the beginning of module, treat it the same as a traditional exam.  For staff, using Canvas Quizzes requires more pre-planning than a paper exam; students need to be in the mind-set that it is as “important” as any other assessment. 

This list is not exhaustive – needless to say, it was a steep learning curve… and I am still learning!  However, I would certainly not go back to other online quizzing platforms now, and when we get the new release of Canvas Quizzes, no doubt there will be more learning with that version. 

If you are thinking about using Canvas Quizzes for summative assessment and would like more advice, just get in touch – I am happy to share more detail of my experiences. 

Click these links to view my Mediasite videos (noted in point 4): How to access your final exam in Canvas and Video of exam moderation and scrutiny of exams in Canvas

For more information on QUB Canvas support: https://blogs.qub.ac.uk/digitallearning/canvas-for-staff/

If you are writing MCQs for Canvas Quizzes, perhaps you might like to join the forthcoming MCQ writing workshop on 24th March 2022? 

Gathering together


Gather: Offering A Superficial Novelty or Genuine Pedagogy Promise?

By Matt Birch and Helen Kerr


The QUB School of Nursing and Midwifery Staff Development Committee chaired by Dr Helen Kerr organise a biennial Staff Development Day to support all categories of staff in maximising their working role potential and to encourage time out from one’s routine work environment. Although typically facilitated at Riddel Hall, QUB, the Covid-19 restrictions in 2021 compelled committee member Matt Birch to devise a solution that would allow the event and activities to occur remotely.  Although lockdown had resulted in staff gaining varying degrees of exposure to traditional conferencing tools like MS Teams and Zoom, the Committee felt staff were so accustomed to this modality, that a new, engaging approach should be considered. It was for this reason that Matt developed a bespoke virtual conferencing environment using Gather.

What is Gather?

Although described as a web-conferencing platform, Gather is special, as it affords users the ability to build ‘physical’ 3D graphical spaces, where avatar representations of participants can interact with objects and other live participants, in much the same way as in popular quest games like World of Warcraft. This affordance for legitimate spatial exploration and meaningful interactivity was why the platform was favoured over conventional tools, as it allowed for the mimicry of “real-world” rules, such as having to approach people to start conversations and being intentionally responsible for moving oneself to certain locations to view or interact with certain things.

How Gather was used

Event content had been developed based on a survey, which asked staff to comment on what they wished to experience on the day. Although much of this preparation occurred prior to the event moving online, the inclusion of interactive whiteboards, podiums, and video projectors within the Gather environment added an immersive aspect to processing, thus helping those in attendance feel more like they were in an authentic classroom or conference setting. Efforts were even made to extend activities beyond the formal, through the inclusion of a yoga room, a treasure hunt, and a real working cinema. Most significantly, immersive activity was achieved while also retaining all the standard features of a traditional web- conferencing experience including instant messaging (IM), screen sharing, as well as webcam and microphone control. This meant that Gather afforded a healthy combination of familiarity and novelty, therefore, emphasising intuition, engagement, and challenge.

Over 70 staff attended, with the agenda including a Keynote presentation from Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell and other presentations from staff at QUB on positive mental health, connected learning and embedding the ICARE values to one’s professional roles. The day was topped off with a quiz and a staff family photo of everyone’s self-created avatars

Image Of Staff Family Photo

Staff reviews were unanimously positive with 39 completed evaluations, which demonstrated a score of 4.2 out of 5 in terms of how much staff enjoyed the platform, and 4.2 out of 5 for how much they enjoyed the event.

Some Considerations

Having run a critical eye over the platform, we did see some important considerations, rather than out and out limitations, although the absence of a platform native video recording tool should be remedied. Firstly, although Gather is free for activities for up to 25 people, a payment is necessary for larger groups. This payment is based on attendee numbers, which makes it reasonable for one-off events, however, this could become expensive if one wished to run an event over a series of days. There are technical considerations, as Gather seems to perform excellently well in Chrome but exhibits an array of glitches when accessed via other browsers, which is not great for students and educators who use tools like Microsoft Edge, Safari, and Firefox. There are socio-cultural considerations, in the sense that although staff were free to explore and chat with whomever they wished, some staff noted they felt anxious to speak, for fear of not knowing who might hear. This is understandable, given a year of becoming conditioned to always being attentive to whether one’s webcam or microphone is active within live calls. This leads to one final consideration, which is that although the avatar of a participant may be visible in a Gather environment, there is no guarantee the person controlling it is paying attention or is even still participating. This is reminiscent of students remaining logged into web-conferences, even after a lecture has concluded. This suggests spontaneous interaction may be the only way to verify attendance.

Implications For Teaching and Learning

Gather provides much potential. For instance, although Gather could be seen as one in an increasingly long line of platforms, its capacity to mimic the proximity related rules of the real-world within 3D-spaces provides genuine opportunities to exploit active learning that goes beyond the superficial. For example, scenario-based roleplaying could provide opportunities for authentic knowledge application activities.

Additionally, one’s ability to independently move around the Gather environment in ways not possible in conventional conferencing offers potential for heighten learner-centred activities. For instance, in a conventional web-conference, students typically wait to view or present a poster in some prescribed sequential order. In Gather, posters can be placed throughout a digital room, thereby granting students a heightened locus of control over which posters they wish to view and when. This may seem trivial but imagine how this heightened locus of control could be exploited in the creation of WebQuests.

In fact, Gather’s free integrated map builder tool, as well as the platforms library of pre-built environments, means that educators are only limited by their own imagination, as any environment design, can be mapped out and produced with a little time, effort, and creative flair. Finally, although somewhat limited in customisation options, the fluidity of the avatar creation tool may also offer benefits to learning activities where an instantaneous or continuous change of appearance is important. 

Gather Map Building Tool


So, does Gather offer superficial novelty or genuine pedagogy promise? We think the latter, but you must decide for yourself. The key to successfully implementing platforms like Gather is letting the learning requirements, purpose and expected goals determine what product or process (if any) should be implemented. Gather may not be the solution to all your online learning needs but it certainly aligns well with plenty of pedagogic use cases.  


Steps in the right direction


In this post Alison Smart & Deirdre O’Neill reflect on embedding self care into the nursing curriculum and introduce the all school walking challenge.

It isn’t too long ago as a deputy charge nurse that I remember struggling to sleep knowing that our staffing levels the next day were not met and wondering how that ICU patient was doing after their surgery. We as a profession of Nurses & Midwives can often deal with very difficult situations and forget about ourselves amongst the maelstrom. This issue has resurfaced in a profound way over the last 12 months of the pandemic with working from home making it very difficult to switch off – I’m sure a lot of you can resonate with this. 

In addition to our career pressures, you are the go-to person for friends and families. Therefore, it is imperative that we, staff, students and the profession as a whole start to look after ourselves and carve out time on a daily basis to fill that cup so we can pour from it in the future. This couldn’t be more true in Northern Ireland – we have a workforce crisis within nursing, so we need to do all we can to manage our well-being and in turn increase recruitment and retention. 

With the introduction of the new curricula, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to embed and promote “Self-Care for Health Care” within the School of Nursing. Due to the new NMC proficiency of ensuring you are in good health this seemed like an ideal opportunity to put this into practice in Year 1 Professionalism in Nursing. 

Each week the students discovered a new activity to undertake, placed visibly within the module material for the week (see Box 1). Students were then asked to reflect and identify how they felt before the activity and how they felt after. 

The feedback received from staff & students was overwhelmingly positive with one of the standout highlights being the step challenge. 

“It is easy, effective and we can all do it” 

“Loved it, got me out and about again” 

“I felt so good after my morning walks”. 

We virtually climbed Mont Blanc and Jo Mc Mullan stormed in front when we headed to the Mediterranean and raced up Corsica (220,000 steps in January). We used a clever and easy app (SQUADS) that allows a forum to message, input steps, share motivation and a healthy dose of competition. 

After speaking with colleagues & sharing the app. Deirdre O’Neill tried it out with Year 2. Let’s hear how they got on: 

After hearing the success of the walking challenge in year one I could not wait to pitch the idea so the students on their return to phase five. With the help of Chloe Gardiner (year two student nurse) a challenge was set up each week for all of us to complete. We divided into three teams and competed against each other encouraging each other to win the weekly challenge.  Initially the challenge was only too last six weeks but because we all see the benefit of not only daily exercise, but we were also able to connect with each other in this virtual platform.  Students were encouraged to share photos of their walking sceneries, so we had pictures of forests, beaches and country lanes.  We saw snow falls and the beginning of the touches of spring.  Each week at the start or end of class we would share our walking stories and because of the laughter and connection it has brought us we will continue the challenge when the students begin their next placement.  

Due to popular demand and with momentum on our side we are holding a walking challenge for staff and students alike as part of QUBbeWell week. The challenge will consist of a Race up Corsica Canyon (69,750 steps) from Monday to Friday. We invite you all to come on board and join the fun. All you need to do is open the link on your phone and join the squad. 

We have also secured some great prizes including a six-month PEC membership in collaboration with Queens Sport and a two-week meal supply kindly donated by Primal Fox Nutrition. In addition to the first 3 people to reach the virtual summit, we have also got a prize for the best picture from all your walks, so get snapping! 

Any questions regarding the app, well-being material or if you fancy a chat, just get in touch a.smart@qub.ac.uk or d.m.oneill@qub.ac.uk

Where there is a student nurse…there is an idea !


Laura Creighton & Alison Smart  

Innovative Student Nurses

Alison: I think as nurses and student nurses we are in the best position to be change agents and implement innovations to enable better practice, facilitating better patient care. Nurses in practice, within education and as leaders problem solve everyday and find excellent solutions to difficult and complex problems. When clinical practice is questioned, you may hear “that’s the way it is done” or when an alternative is suggested that “it doesn’t make sense”. This could be in relation to service delivery and operational systems within the hospital. With this in mind and the new curriculum on the horizon I was chomping at the bit to ensure the nurses of the future are encouraged to be innovators. Laura joined the team and we got our thinking hats on for a creative way to get the students to channel their inner Deborah Meade and the Dragons Den SNOM style was born.

Dragons Den was born

Laura: After a decade of clinical nursing, I cannot begin to express how refreshing it was to see the concepts that our students came up with.

We are a dynamic workforce, with a multi-faceted role that keeps on expanding. In the COVID-19 global pandemic, nurses, midwives and students in practice stepped up to the mark, reorganising services, so an increased number of patients could be cared for, with a drive to push through to better times. Our year one undergraduate nursing innovations project aims to inspire students to have the confidence to suggest changes in practice and education.

Nurse, midwives and students stepped up during the pandemic

Our first year students had three short weeks in placement due to the pandemic and threw themselves into every opportunity. Their innovative ideas as part of the SONM Dragon’s Den challenge, spanned from patient improvement projects, to how to improve their educational journey. Some ideas were already in practice but the students brought a fresh perspective and suggested new approaches.

We used tutorial classes to brainstorm innovations. The students were put into break out rooms and given 30 minutes to develop their idea and a selection for the final was decided on their pitch to fellow classmates. The final of the SONM Dragon’s Den was a sixty second pitch on the innovation. We had four judges Professor Donna Fitzsimons, Professor Karen McCutcheon, Maggie Bennett and Doris Corkin.

The top three innovations

1. Pre-placement visits
2. Cultural awareness App
3.Coloured vital signs equipment for children
School of Nursing and Midwifery Dragons Den Season 1 winners

The Winning Team:

Naomi Webb, Catherine Williamson, Fionnuala Whyte, Anna Whiteside and Evelyn Whithorn (AD10- Year 1 Undergraduate Nurses)

Taking part in the innovations project was energising and enlightening. As a group we appreciated the competitive nature of the challenge and enjoyed hearing others’ ideas across the cohort. Our innovation was centred on student familiarisation for practice and a product of a lengthy video call. We considered the issues we had faced so far, on our nursing journey and agreed the importance of being prepared for clinical practice. We focussed on how student anxiety could be alleviated prior to placement, through an introduction to the area.

We are delighted we won the innovations project! Our idea has been taken on board and will be implemented by the school of Nursing and Midwifery here at Queen’s University. We are thrilled by our achievement. It only takes one small idea to make a difference and anyone can do this. We feel confident to suggest more positive innovations in the future as nurses.

Thank you for reading. If you would like further details please get in touch, we are happy to share our experience.

Alison A.smart@qub.ac.uk and Laura laura.creighton@qub.ac.uk

Alison Smart is a lecturer (Education) in Adult Nursing and module leader in Health Assessment. Alison’s clinical background is within neuro-critical care and stroke.

Laura Creighton joined the School of Nursing and Midwifery as lecturer (Education) in adult nursing at Queen’s University Belfast in August 2020. As an intensive care nurse she continues to work clinical shifts at the weekend, through the pandemic.


All in this together….staying connected


In this post Pauline Cardwell, Year 2 Lead and Lecturer in Children’s and Young Peoples Nursing, reflects on the difference connection can make.

It is hard to believe we are almost 10 months into this pandemic event, which has caused each and every one of us to review and reflect on every aspect of our lives, personally, professionally and as a community.  This evolving and uncertain period of time has challenged us as individuals and has also afforded us some real opportunities to create and deliver on new ways of working, providing engaging and inspiring learning activities, whilst being mindful of the human cost individually, whilst ultimately remembering we are all trying to navigate this difficult and unpredictable time.

Essence of nursing

Nursing has always prided itself on being a caring and compassionate career, where at the heart of its DNA is the privilege to care for individuals and communities at vulnerable, challenging, difficult and joyous times in their lives. This act of caring is the essence of ‘what we do’, to hold the hand of someone who is frightened or scared of the journey ahead or celebrating the end of a successful treatment plan, a newfound independence, a recovery made, or a new life delivered. Whilst this may be the essence of nursing it can sometimes require a heavy payment. We have all seen so many images of those heroes after a demanding, draining and sometimes devastating shift and still we come back and do it all again.

Every one of us has paid the cost in a plethora of ways. The worry of supporting each other, hoping we can deliver a curriculum fit for the future and as educationalists caring for our students. I experienced this acutely one day in November where I unexpectedly was contacted by a student in distress, they were overwhelmed at the acuity and challenging clinical environment they were currently working in. The student was upset, tearful and visibly distressed, the wise ward manager had asked them to take a break and suggested taking a walk outside to assist in reducing the stress they were feeling.

The power of connection

It was a bright, clear day and I reassured the student I was here to listen and asked them to explain what they were feeling. I felt the need to assist the student to achieve some grounding and perspective of what they were feeling, and I asked them to describe what they could see and if there was any greenery around. The student allowed me to view their surroundings and I noted a tree nearby and asked them to do something for me, I asked the student to go to the tree and rest their palm against the trunk of the tree. Initially, they were reluctant to carry out the activity, I reassured them I was with them and encouraged them to go ahead and trust me. We then both closed our eyes and I asked them to focus on their breathing. I then began to talk quietly and calmly to the student asking them to consider how the tree had lost its leaves and looked ‘dead’ essentially but also consider that come spring the tree would bud again and burst into life once more. I noted their breathing patterned had calmed and their speech was not as rushed as previously. Eventually we concluded the conversation when the student felt able to return to their shift.

Making a difference to others

Reflecting on this event, I feel grateful I had the opportunity and privilege to support this student at such a personally vulnerable time for them. On further consideration I truly appreciate that this is truly a momentous time for our professions, we are courageous, we are caring, we are compassionate but ultimately, we are human. So, my wish for us all as we move forward and hopefully to a more ‘normal’ way of life is to; be kind to ourselves and others, be keen to learn, develop and progress and to be confident we are capable of delivering, growing and most of all making a difference for others.

#proudofourstudents #IloveNursing

Susan makes a reflective start to the New Year!


In this first post of the New Year, Dr Susan Clarke, in her role as module co-ordinator considers the value of reflection.

I’ve been enjoying the Friday ritual of reading Maggie and Iain’s Connected Learning blog so thought I might share some of my thoughts on the importance of reflection- not the students’ reflection, but our own reflective practice as educators, and specifically as module coordinators.

A record of real time feelings

Most of you know that I was one of, and am now solely, the module co-ordinator for EBN2. Most years, I keep a reflective diary on my experiences through the module. I do this for several reasons, primarily because my memory is really bad and I want to make sure when we come to run the module for the next intake that I know which bits need tweaked but also because it is a record of my real time feelings and reflections. We all internalise this, right? So I’m just putting my thoughts to paper.

Justifying the need for action

I don’t write reams of text and it mostly consists of bullet points, but I write notes to myself of what worked and what didn’t work and why that might be. The why is very important and I don’t think you remember that if you don’t write it as you experience it. Another important aspect is the action points- suggestions for what I can change that will address the problem. Again, too easy to ignore these suggestions if I haven’t made a note to myself of the “why” to justify the need for action. We are all busy and have competing priorities in this incredibly varied job we do so we could be forgiven for not instigating change if we didn’t need to!

This year, more than most, with the new curriculum, the move to online/remote delivery and the fact that EBN2 is now totally delivered in one teaching phase (will I even remember what a PICO is by the time it rolls around again never mind the nuances of timing the delivery of key messages?!), my ritual has been invaluable. Just a few moments at the end of each week to write my reflections meant that, when we had our debriefing meeting at the end of the module, I was able to identify key learning points for our team and to make suggestions for modifications when delivering it to the February cohort.

Another tool to maximise our teaching practice

This is an entirely new curriculum. We expect too much of it and ourselves if we think it will work perfectly straight out of the box so, dare I say it, evidence based modifications for future cohorts are not only necessary but essential to make it work as well as it can. We teach the students action cycles of plan, do, study, act and that can equally be applied to our education setting as to their healthcare practice. Combining our personal reflections with student feedback, external examiner feedback and team debriefings means we have a well-rounded view of our modules and is just one more tool in our armoury to maximise our teaching practice.

Iain and Maggie reflect on the development of the School of Nursing and Midwifery Blog


A blog was born

It was at a meeting of the Connected learning group that the idea of a blog to showcase our experiences with moving to a connected learning environment was first mooted. An off-the-cuff comment and our less than thought through response and this blog was born. At that stage neither of us had any experience in developing or running blogs.  This semester has been a steep learning curve.  Below we take some time to reflect on our experiences of the first semester.

One semester

Fifteen Posts

22 authors


A forum for colleagues to share good practice

Being connected is fundamental in nursing. It is that connectedness, both with ourselves and with the people and families that we are privileged to look after, that sets nursing and midwifery apart from our colleagues in other disciplines. We set out to provide a forum for colleagues to showcase good practice and to begin discussion and debate about how we move forward in an uncertain time. It was a way of us connecting with each other in the absence of the water cooler and kitchen. We hoped that people would learn from each other, and that some of the ideas you read might influence your practice going forward. Neither of us ever anticipated such a positive experience and level of engagement.

Developing digital communities, looking after yourself, moving classroom activities online and getting feedback from our students have all featured in the first 15 posts. There has been a wealth of learning and it has been a fantastic opportunity for reflection for us and, by way of example, with an average of over 36 reviews per day in the last fifteen days, it would appear that others are getting some benefit from it as well.

A vehicle to share creativity

For us though, it is the enthusiasm and warmth in the blog that has struck a chord. Colleagues and students have been offering ideas, posts and supportive comments throughout the semester. This is testament to the professionalism and creativity of the staff and students in the school. The School of Nursing and Midwifery have a lot to be proud of and this blog is a vehicle for highlighting that.

Increasing readership

The New Year brings new opportunities for the blog. The QUB Digital learning blog recently approached us asking to repost some of the blog posts with full recognition that the original was posted here. That will increase our readership and also further highlight the good work we do across the University. We invite you to stay connected with us,  by telling us about what you’re getting up to.

We would love to hear from you in 2021

Are you a creative teacher, or have you adopted something from a classroom to a digital setting? Perhaps you are a student and getting on the receiving end of what the staff are doing. Either way, we would love to hear from you. 

To contribute please email Maggie m.bennett@qub.ac.uk or Iain i.mcgowan@qub.ac.uk  at the School of Nursing and Midwifery.

Thank you

Iain and Maggie

Decorate your door/ Wall/ Space for Christmas


By Michelle Mullan

I need to start this blog with a disclaimer – at home I do not decorate until the middle of December, but in work…… a totally different story!

It all started 15 years ago in Elmwood Avenue

It has been a long-standing tradition in the unit I work in (Continuing Professional and Academic Development) that we put our tree up on the day before Belfast City Council hold their switch on.  We started this over 15 years ago when we worked in Elmwood Avenue and which we continued when we moved back into MBC and merged with our clerical colleagues in undergraduate nursing. This would normally be a big event around 16th November with ‘special guests’ to do the switch on and an opportunity for a coffee morning.  One year we actually had Frosty the Snowman and the man himself, Mr Claus, in attendance!  Our office has a large glass door and about 4 years ago we idly chatted about how we could turn it into the entrance to Santa’s Grotto, and we did!  There was a lot of brainstorming involved, plus some cardboard and a brick wallpaper, then came the challenge of erecting it!  Then a couple of years ago we thought it would be a good idea to turn this into a fundraising opportunity and encourage everyone in the School to decorate their doors for Christmas whilst donating money to a chosen charity.   Our grotto door was exempt because, well, it was just too good!!

Annual event

The Decorate your Door for Christmas campaign was so well received that we decided to roll this out annually.  How staff decorate their doors (or not!) is entirely up to them.  We have a vote for the winner who receives a trophy (one out of a bag of six from the pound shop, but prestigious nonetheless).   The fundraising from the campaign has gone to a cancer charity and Cruse Bereavement Care. 

Foodbank donations

Now, the School of Nursing and Midwifery is constantly evolving in all aspects of School life, so when one of the lecturers mentioned a reverse advent calendar – putting something in instead of taking out – I thought, why not!  To do this, we obviously had to have a collection point, and so the fireplace was born, complete with chimney, stockings and roaring (fake) flames!   Staff were asked to donate foodstuff for the foodbank and, thanks to the generosity of the School staff, we have been able to donate over 80kg of food to the foodbank in each of the last two years. 

More than ever in 2020 sections of our society are struggling and the work of charities is so important for many who may never have had to access them before. 

Christmas doors decorated in the SONM QUB

This year is a bit different

This year we are running a “Decorate your Door/Wall/Space for Christmas” and no fake backgrounds are allowed!  Staff have been asked to decorate the space behind them. I’m in my kitchen, but others are in home offices, craft rooms, playrooms, living rooms, bedrooms or dining rooms!  Some will go all out (OK, I will!) and others will throw a bit of tinsel over the door handle, and that doesn’t matter, it’s the taking part (and donating the money) that counts. 

Chosen charities

The chosen charities for 2020 will be the foodbank (because we cannot have a food collection) and Women’s Aid.  To enable this a PayPal pool was established and whilst I have not seen any evidence of decorating just yet, the contributions are coming in and that’s what is important. 

Thank you

I think it is timely to thank everyone who takes part every year. Some like to groan and complain and walk about muttering something about ‘bah humbug’ and ‘it’s too early’, some are all in and others just like to enjoy the craic, but everyone contributes something and that only emphasises the sense of community we have in our School which is fostered by our Head of School who has been so supportive of all our mad ideas!  Christmas in July anyone??

Please donate by 11th December 2020!

PayPal Pool – Decorate your Doors – Donation  

Michelle Mullan

Michelle has worked in the School of Nursing & Midwifery since the Colleges of Nursing integrated with Queens in 1997 and her role entails working in CPAD providing administrative support for all of the commissioned programmes and post reg Masters students both local and international. Outside of work Michelle is involved in archery and an Akela for a Cub Scout Group. 

Guinness, the Mourne mountains and COVID-19 recovery

In January 2021, Lecturer in Education, Conor Hamiltons’ dad contracted Covid. In this blog post, Conor reflects on the impact of not being connected to him during his illness and on using his Dads connection with the Mournes (and Guinness) to  aid his recovery.

By now just about everyone on the planet is aware of Covid-19. Very few have been untouched by its grasp. Since March 2020 we have all had to change the way we live our lives, be it work, school, shopping, exercise, face to face socialising or visiting family. We have missed parties, pubs, restaurants, holidays and foreign travel. Parents became teachers. Nurses and doctors became unlikely superheroes. As nurses and nursing students some of us were redeployed from our normal day to day jobs to frontline nursing and caring for the sickest of those affected. Personally, I was redeployed from running endoscopy lists in a Day Procedure Unit, to night shifts in Covid Emergency Theatre and having to run from Theatre to the Respiratory Ward or E.D. to intubate the sickest patients and bring them to ICU via the CT scanner. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t affected. We all were whether we care to admit it or not. I know some of those patients sadly didn’t make it. I took my work home with me every morning and I thought about little else until I went back in again that night.

My family remained untouched directly by Covid until January 2021. My parents are both in their seventies. My mother has multiple comorbidities but my father is an ex-marathon runner, and indeed clocked 2 hours 38 minutes for the distance in the mid-eighties. He still walks ten miles a day, and loves hiking in the Mournes. For almost a year they isolated and did everything by the book. My family and my brother’s family visited the back yard and spoke to them through the glass window of the porch. They exercised once daily in Loughgall Park or Gosford Forest Park and stayed within a short radius of home. Shopping was all done online. Yet somewhere over the Christmas period of 2020 Covid caught up with them. Mum had mild flu-like symptoms. Dad initially had the same, but on 7th January his chest became tight and the GP was called. He was ill, but not ill enough for hospital. We were told to monitor him overnight and ring 999 if he deteriorated. Being a typical man, he went off to bed assuring us he would call if he got any worse. At 8am the next morning, my mother found him almost blue, struggling to breathe with oxygen saturation levels below 80%. He didn’t want to go to hospital so he decided to tough it out overnight and hope it would clear up. He was blue-lighted to Craigavon Hospital and the paramedic said had he waited another hour he might not have made it.

So began a month of no contact with dad other than text messaging and passing messages via nursing staff. Dad doesn’t do technology so Facetime, Whatsapp and all those other video messaging services were out the window. It was this very week that I started as a Lecturer in Nursing at Queen’s and I also tested positive for Covid four days after my first vaccination. So, mum was on her own, dad was in hospital and we were all isolating. It was a pretty busy and stressful week. Having been called out to 2 North Respiratory a number of times to help intubate patients while working in Covid Emergency Theatre, I could picture the scene and appreciate what was going on around him.

Dad continued to deteriorate over the next two weeks to the point where he was put on CPAP and told the next step was ICU and ventilation. He found the CPAP intolerable and not only was he physically deteriorating, but mentally he had reached rock bottom. His friend from school, over 60 years ago, had passed away suddenly overnight as a result of Covid in the bed next to him. Dad then developed pulmonary emboli (clots on his lungs). At his lowest ebb, he rang my mum one morning and said he didn’t think he would make it out of hospital, and gave her his bank account details – that’s how we knew he was really sick!

Not knowing how to lift his spirits, myself and my brother David decided to set him a goal. We promised him we’d have a pint of Guinness on top of Doan (one of the smallest peaks in the Mournes) when he recovered. Every time we spoke to him on the phone between then and his discharge weeks later, we reminded him of the goal. For six weeks after discharge either myself or David would call for dad, no matter what the weather, and take him for a walk at 6pm. He started with 400 meters on 8 litres of oxygen pushing a rollator. Again, being a proud man, known around Armagh and beyond for his marathon exploits in the eighties, he would not go out in daylight with the rollator – this was all done under cover of darkness, wearing a big hat and a buff! Over the six weeks we weaned him off the oxygen and increased the distance gradually. Eventually he was walking six miles non-stop with no oxygen. On 1st of April he rang and said he was ready for Doan on the 3rd – I thought it was an April Fool prank, but no, he was ready. His two youngest grandchildren were there to set an easy pace, and in just over 2 hours we had walked the four miles to Doan and made it to the summit. I had three cans of Guinness with me and three glasses to fulfil the promise. That’s him below with the pint…. on Doan. It was a perfect day. It wasn’t a bad pint either. Just before we took this photo we met two of the anaesthetists from Craigavon who were delighted to see him up there. I think they got a bit of a lift from seeing the benefits of their work.

I posted this photo on the Mourne Mountains Hiking Facebook page and it was picked up by a member who is a journalist for the Irish News. They ran a story about dad’s pint of Guinness on Doan and stated that the photo was “the” photo of the pandemic. The Newsletter then picked it up. BBC Radio Ulster rang and did an interview with us on their morning slot. It went to my dad’s head a bit and he started practicing his signature for autographs. We were told last week that the story had made it to newspapers in India, via Canada. Good news seems to travel fast. It seems everyone wants to grab a positive story from the pandemic.

I’m extremely proud of my dad. He is back to walking eight to ten miles a day with his wee rucksack on his back. He takes a stick now, just for a bit of peace of mind. I’m not sure if he takes any Guinness though. If nothing else this wee tale shows the benefits of goal setting in recovery. I’m not sure what would have happened to dad if we hadn’t set him a goal. I’m not sure if it was the goal that helped him recover, or the fact that he realised he had given mum access to his bank account. I like to think it was the goal. He has since changed his bank account password. Set yourself goals in life – believe and you can achieve. Never give out your bank account details. Stay safe.

A New Mental Health Nursing blog

The mental health team recently started their own blog on mental health nursing and the connectedness that it bring with students and the wider mental health family. Here, blog editor Colin Hughes introduces the mental health nursing blog.

The first school blog- ‘connected learning’ – that launched late last year is I feel a very timely resource for both Staff and Students.  In many ways this blog demonstrates the need to highlight the similarities we share across all fields of Nursing and Midwifery, rather than working in an isolated fashion it is important to connect with each other to improve our practice.  

This leads to improved competency and confidence and a better joined up service provision which can only improve the lives of those we care for.  This concept of improved service delivery through a greater shared understand, via connected knowledge transfer has been highlighted by the creation of the Nursing and Midwifery’s (NMC) (2020) new pre-registration educational standards.  Enshrined within these educational standards we see a greater emphasis on the similarities shared by all fields of Nursing and an acknowledgement that we can no longer practice in ‘silos’, rather we need an enhanced understanding of each other’s practice areas. 

This additional knowledge is not about becoming an expert in all areas but is about having additional knowledge and skills which allow us to improve the physical and psychological wellbeing of those under our care.  These additional but less specified skills also permit for more efficient pathways of care a ‘connected network’ which allows for better understanding of and sharing of information.  All of this greater understanding and sharing of information through a new open connected and collegiate relationship does not diminish the role of the field specific practitioner, but simply allows for a better practitioner.  This new connected agenda can only be promoted and moved forward through greater understanding of each other and each other’s profession, facilitated by the NMC’s (2020) new standards.  Of course, this can only work if we in education in collaboration with our service side partners and all stakeholders, embrace rather than resist this new philosophy.

The Connected Learning Blog is a platform which can act as a natural fulcrum for us all to present knowledge, ask questions provide answers to help all of us in this journey of open understanding.  The Mental Health Nursing Blog perhaps the first of several field specific blogs is one which will support the philosophy of the Connect Learning Blog and one of shared understanding and learning.  This can only be successful if we all engage with these platforms, while it is true  common early adopters of these platforms will be staff and within the staff body those comfortable in the use of such platforms,  it is important that students, patients, carers, service colleagues and all those interested in improving patient care ‘connect together’ to push this agenda forward.  Improving our understanding of each other, broadening our own knowledge base, understanding, and embracing each other’s perspective and fields can only improve the care we can deliver to our patients and their carers. 

The Mental Health Nursing blog can be found here