Category Archives: Health and Wellbeing

Nursing in the Highlands and Islands: An interview with Professor Annetta Smith

To mark International Nurses Day, we caught up with Professor Annetta Smith, Head of the Department of Nursing and Midwifery, to ask her about careers in nursing, working in the Highlands and Islands and the impact of COVID-19.

Can you describe your career and how it led to your current position?

Most of my career as a nurse has been spent in education. When I was working as a nurse in clinical practice, I always had a particular interest in teaching nursing students. My first teaching post was in the Highlands and Western Isles College of Nursing and Midwifery, I spent almost 19 years working with the University of Stirling where I held various senior positions before joining the University of the Highlands and Islands as Head of Department in 2017. Alongside nurse education I have developed a number of research interests over the course of my career and completed my PhD in 2008. It has been a privilege to able to combine my two interests of nurse education and health research during my career and I was delighted to be awarded the title Professor of Nursing in 2018.

Our university partnership took over delivery of pre-registration nurse education in the region in 2017. How has the department developed since then?

There have been so many significant developments that have happened since we became an academic department in the university in 2017. We have grown quickly and diversified our activity. Our undergraduate student nurse numbers have increased significantly, we offer a successful MSc programme in advanced nursing practice / advanced professional practice and our shortened post-registration midwifery programme has helped to ensure midwives have been prepared to work in our Highland and Island communities. The number of PhD students supervised by our department continues to grow and our researchers are making an important contribution to new emerging health evidence through research grant activity, academic publications and knowledge exchange. 

What have been the highlights over the last five years for you?

It has been an incredibly exciting five years, supporting both the transition of nurse education into the university and the rapid growth of all the department teaching and research activity. The highlights are always our students. Although we could not have a physical graduation last year because of the pandemic, our first nursing, midwifery and advanced practice students graduated from the university and are now working across the Highlands and Islands, throughout the UK and beyond. From a more personal perspective, I have had the opportunity to work with colleagues both in the UK and globally across education, research and policy activities and have enjoyed the opportunities these collaborations have offered and it has been a privilege to make that wider contribution to the nursing profession.

Why is nursing a good career option?

Nursing is a varied, complex and multi-skilled profession and nurses work in many diverse settings and the career opportunities are almost endless. Nurses can be found in every health care setting, they are at the front line of care delivery, often leading and delivering specialist services. Nurses make an important contribution to service delivery in social care and third sector agencies, can work in the private sector and prison services. Nurses are healthcare management leaders, academics and researchers. There are too many career options to identify them all, but there are multiple career possibilities to suit anyone interested in becoming a nurse.

What is different about being a nurse in the Highlands and Islands?

In many respects it doesn’t matter where nurses work, the patients regardless of where they live are always the most important focus for what nurses do. Being a nurse in the Highlands and Islands gives us the opportunity to live and work in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. Very often nurses live in the communities that they work in and that can also bring its own challenges and rewards, but the rewards will always outweigh the challenges. 

What is special about the University of the Highlands and Islands nursing courses?

All of our courses are developed in close partnership with our health service colleagues and that joint approach helps to ensure that our courses are highly relevant for our students and for their professional development and competence. We have two campus sites, in Inverness and Stornoway, our campus in Stornoway in the Western Isles is unique to the UK as it provides an opportunity for nursing students to undertake their programmes in an island setting. All of our students have the opportunity to experience such a wide diversity of placements across the Highlands and Islands, that includes opportunities for unique remote and rural experiences of healthcare.

What impact has COVID-19 had on the department over the last year?

Like many similar departments to ours across the UK, the impacts have been significant. Over the past year students have mainly been taught online and, importantly, they have made a significant contribution in their clinical practice education to the COVID effort and we are very proud of that contribution. The department staff have gone above and beyond to ensure all our courses continue to run and that students are well supported. We have learnt a lot in the process and particularly how we deliver our programmes and to make the most of the technology available to us. We have really missed our more regular face to face contact with both our students and with our department colleagues and are looking forward to resuming that contact when we are able to do so. 

As well as teaching nursing and midwifery students, the department is also involved in research. Can you tell us about some of the current projects?

Health research is an important component of what we do and it is not possible to list every project, but this is a flavour of what department staff and students are currently working on, often with other external collaborators. Staff and doctoral students continue to contribute to the global effort of the COVID-19 pandemic by exploring the impact on people’s health and healthcare to inform supportive interventions. We are conducting research on physical activity in young people, end of life care and the provision of safe medication use for older people with sensory impairment. Our research activity is impact focused and aims to contribute to knowledge that will help to improve the health and illness experience of the population.  

You will be retiring this summer. What are your hopes for the future of nursing education in the Highlands and Islands?

We know that when nurses and other healthcare workers have access to their education programmes close to home they are more likely to choose to stay in the same area to work when they qualify or are more likely to return in time. This factor is so important to the provision of healthcare delivery throughout the Highlands and Islands and to the sustainability of that delivery. Given the significant growth and achievements of the department over the past five years, I am confident that education and research activity will continue to develop and innovate, and that the department will continue to be known for its excellent provision nationally and globally whilst working closely with our local partners to support healthcare education throughout the Highlands and Islands. 

To find out more about health and wellbeing courses at the University of the Highlands and Islands, visit  www.uhi.ac.uk/en/courses

Health libraries’ vital role in supporting the COVID response

To mark World Book Day on Thursday 4 March, Rob Polson and Chris O’Malley highlight the contribution the Highland Health Sciences Library is making to the COVID-19 response.

The Highland Health Sciences Library is one of thirteen libraries spread across University of the Highlands and Islands partnership. The facility is based in the Centre for Health Science in the grounds of Raigmore Hospital, although staff have been delivering services remotely in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As well as serving university students and staff, the library, along with Lorn and Islands Hospital Information Service and Library in Oban, also provides support to NHS Highland health and social care staff. Our work aims to ensure that students and health care staff have access to up to date evidence-based information so they can provide patients with high quality health care. Generations of student nurses, doctors and allied health professionals have passed through and used the service to become managers and experts in their field.

Library staff have made many contributions to consumer health information, both at home and abroad over the years. We have helped to set up and support the specialist Scottish Toxoplasmosis and Lyme Disease laboratories in Raigmore and, further afield, we have contributed to the development of mental health services in Ghana and Zambia and helped with child health in Amazonia.

Historically, the Highlands is the home of some significant and noteworthy health innovations. The Highlands and Islands Medical Service, the model for the current UK NHS service, originated in the area. With the development of accessible electronic resources in the 1990s, the Highland Health Sciences Library was one of the main proposers of an electronic repository of books, articles and professional development materials – making them accessible 24/7, irrespective of staff location. This proposal initially became the NHS Scotland eLibrary and has since developed into the main clinical and educational knowledge support tool for the NHS in Scotland.

In essence, we are here to link people with evidence, so they can conduct evidence-based education, research and practice in health sciences. Traditional forms of this work involve developing collections of resources like books on shelves and, more recently, electronic journals, eBooks and other online resources. We also teach staff and students how to find evidence for themselves and we collate material for those who are short on time, those working on high quality academic research and practice, and those providing specific clinical care.

During COVID-19, the library has been working closely with NHS Highland’s public health department. We provide information to help the department plan for dealing with the pandemic. In the early stages of the pandemic, health services had to act quickly and didn’t really know what was going to happen. We set up alerts to help model how the virus would develop in the area and how best to deal with possible scenarios. Alerts were also set up to deal with specific problems resulting from treatments, for example, how to support the psychological needs of people leaving intensive care. We continue to set up alerts as things progress, including information on how best to deal with the long COVID legacy. Ongoing horizon scanning of how the virus is developing also allows the department to plan for contingencies, such as the problem of vaccine hesitancy – the reasons behind refusing vaccination.


Image: WHO/ Sam Bradd


Feedback from this work indicates that the library service is seen as frontline. It allows public health professionals to focus on their decision making, with the library service providing condensed, best evidence in a manageable controlled flow – gifting time to staff and increasing the value of their work. In addition to this, the library has contributed to developing similar sets of resources for NHS Scotland and has fed into the COVID-19 work of the World Health Organisation.

In preparation for the next pandemic, this element of providing condensed best evidence in a manageable, controlled flow using artificial intelligence and machine learning is being looked at as a project in the university’s computing department.

Libraries play an important role in saving their users money and time. A study by the Highland Health Sciences Library showed that staff could save an average of six hours per query by using the service. This equates to a saving of £200 per query for their employer.

Stereotypes of what we do in the library, like a librarian as someone who stamps books in and out all day, are outmoded now. Our real role is supporting the wide information needs of our varied user groups across the university partnership and NHS Highland.

In this maelstrom of change, the goals, strategies and standards of academia and health sciences remain the structural underpinnings of the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘why,’ and ‘how’ of what we do. The ‘where’ has changed for now in these COVID times, but we have adapted and continue to support the needs of those the service is designed to support.

Rob Polson and Chris O’Malley, Specialist Librarians, Highland Health Sciences Library

Student survival guide whilst social distancing

Okay, so you are studying from home. How do you stay motivated? How do you find new things to do around your flat or house? Is social distancing affecting your mental health? Getting bored or stressed out? Here are some tips to inspire you during this period of self-isolation!

HOW DO I STAY MOTIVATED?

BREAK UP YOUR DAY. Check in with your friends for a chat, take regular breaks from studying and screen time, eat regular meals and avoid unnecessary snacking – go for a healthier option!

Blue the cat from Arran Video Conferencing into classes at Argyll College UHI
Blue the cat studying from Arran – shared by @argyll.uhi on Instagram

ORGANISE YOUR WORKSPACE. Do whatever you need to do to get into your work mindset, whether that’s having a manageable workspace, study snacks, house plants nearby – whatever prevents you from opening that Netflix tab…

CfH staff meeting online
Lucy Dean chatting to Centre for History colleagues via Video Conference – shared by @UHIHistory on Twitter

PREPARE YOURSELF FOR STUDYING. Try not to feel overwhelmed with your workload and pressure from the unfamiliarity of working from home. Don’t stay in your PJs – treat it like you are going to your lecture and get dressed.

TUNES ON. Check out Spotify’s chill playlists to get you into a good study rhythm and de-stress from current news articles. I recommend lofi hip hop & jazz for good background noise. Pick up your guitar, write some compositions, get inspired by what’s going on in the world around you! Sofa Singers are an online platform to share songs, poems or stories with people around the world through video chat – sing as if no-one’s listening! Up for jig? #CovidCeilidh is a great way to connect with fellow traditional Scottish musicians in creating a virtual ceilidh!

PLAN FOR THE FUTURE. Organise trips for when you are ‘free’ again to spend time with your friends. Browse Instagram travel feeds for where you might visit next. Make a ‘things I want to do’ list for when social distancing has finished. Where’s #1 on your list?

LET’S GET CREATIVE. Daily drawing for wellbeing is offering free online drawing classes to follow along to artist’s guides – get your sketchpad out! Rearrange your bedroom, draw landscapes from your window, write a blog, create a YouTube video, try TikTok, paint, read, write some poetry or try a social distancing inspired haiku. Feeling like you aren’t getting enough culture? Walk through virtual galleries from New York City to Seoul – just pretend you’re on holiday 😉

Susan, Art and Design lecturer from West Highland College UHI Portree campus continuing to support students online
Art lecturer Susan teaching online – shared by @whc.uhi on Instagram

SOCIALISE (DISTANTLY). Connect with fellow students, friends and family on Skype and WhatsApp groups – send virtual hugs!!! Help elderly relatives set up a Skype account or run errands for them. Stay informed by checking NHS Scotland and Scottish Government social media pages. You can also join the online Perth College UHI Book Club every Monday at 4pm and the ESOL Reading Club every Wednesday at 4pm. If you would like to take part, please email ramirez.jimenez.perth@uhi.ac.uk who will provide you with a copy of the short stories they are reading.

Online student quiz
MA Art and Social Practice student Charlotte Mountford organised an online quiz for fellow students – shared by @ChippedredNails on Twitter

YES, YOU CAN STILL EXERCISE. The Scottish Government advises you to cycle or go for a walk in your local park once a day alone, or people you live with. Make your home your gym with The Body Coach or with Perth College UHI’s Academy of Sport & Wellbeing daily workout videos. Take occasional 10min breaks from screens and do some yoga to stretch your legs.

SPRING CLEAN. Put on your beauty face mask, let fresh air in, light scented candles, get your laundry done and do some mindfulness. Clear out clothing you don’t need and consider donating them. Nothing feels better than having a clear mind and clean workspace.

FOOD! Share recipes with friends, get adventurous in your cooking and exchange top tips online. Post photos of your smoothies and baking creations! What’s your go-to study snack? Young people cooking

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? When you’re winding down, why not binge Netflix or Amazon? Scroll through their true crime docuseries or fun feel good comedies! Did you know you can download Netflix Party? shutterstock_771067417This allows you to binge watch to your heart’s content whilst live chatting with your friends. Get your snacks ready! Looking to have a virtual house party? Houseparty allows you to connect with friends and play party games. Looking for animal content? Edinburgh Zoo has live camera feeds of their tigers, koalas, pandas and more!

#ShareGoodNews. Find solace in good news stories & share them with us. Stay positive, we’re here for you if you need us!

Katie Masheter Birthday
#ThinkUHI staff member Katie Masheter celebrating her Birthday online with work colleagues. – shared by @KatieMasheter on Twitter

SELF-ISOLATION & SOCIAL DISTANCING IS AFFECTING MY MENTAL HEALTH

Remember that panic can spread faster than the virus; get the facts, not the rumours and listen to public health experts who can help navigate the path ahead. If you feel overwhelmed, voice your concerns with your course leader, personal academic tutor or local student support team.shutterstock_1317925382The charity Mind have produced resources on coping with stress and advice on making sure you are looking after YOU! Support helplines are also on our website. If you’re worried about your mental health, contact your local student support team OR access counselling through the online counselling service through the green button. Want to read further? Read through our Mental health blog. Stay up to date on current coronavirus information and FAQs.

TAKE CARE – SENDING YOU A VIRTUAL HUG!

Tag #ThinkUHI in your social media posts with your #ShareGoodNews stories Instagram, Twitter and Facebook 💜

Written by Sophie Macfarlane, Digital Marketing Assistant and 2019 university graduate