Trainee nurses in one part of Scotland are taking part in an initiative to encourage them to exercise so they feel more confident in advising patients about the importance of fitness.
The students are also going out into the community – to schools, homeless shelters and care homes – to encourage Scots to exercise. There are now hopes that the initiative at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) can be spread to other parts of the country.
Julie Orr, lecturer in adult nursing and lead academic in the UWS initiative, said nurses needed to set a good example to patients in efforts to improve the nation’s health.
“A lot of the evidence suggests that nurses who don’t examine their own lifestyle are less likely to promote it [exercise] to patients,” she said. “Or if they smoke, they won’t bring that up.
“We’re looking at it from a fitness point of view because we think it’s poor role-modelling. If they are not prepared to look at themselves, what chance have they got of helping society?”
For the past two years, first-year students at the UWS campus in Dumfries have been asked if they are interested in promoting exercise and then encouraged to get their peers involved. They run “shake-up, wake-up” sessions at the start of classes and are also involved in fitness events throughout the year, such as local sports days.
Senior students are also involved in programmes to go out into the community to promote the importance of physical activity. Ms Orr said that the students themselves also seemed to be getting fitter. “I’ve had students say they have lost weight. They say it is really important and they need to be doing this.”
This approach has not yet being taken up by other universities, but UWS has had meetings with the Scottish Government about the programme. “They are very interested in this project, particularly that we are writing one aspect of it into our curriculum,” Ms Orr said. “From September, senior students going out to the community is being embedded in the curriculum across all four campuses.”
Michelle Martin, a final-year nursing student, said: “Promoting physical activity to all groups of the community has been a great experience for all of us. We’ve worked with young children right through to adults in day centres, hospitals and care homes – our oldest participant was 104.
“Regardless of age, everyone has really enjoyed taking part.”
Royal College of Nursing Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said nurses were well aware of the importance of exercising and encouraging patients to maintain their fitness. “We know, however, that many nurses are under a great deal of pressure and often find it difficult to fit in regular breaks at work,” she said.
“If you’re working a 12-hour shift and struggling to care for too many patients on a ward and go home exhausted and stressed, it can be difficult to fit in exercise or eat well.
“Health boards need to do more to support nurses at work to adopt a more healthy lifestyle if this initiative is to succeed with front-line nurses.”