Welcome from Dr Mary Kennedy, Lead for Service User Engagement

If I can say anything positive about our time in lockdown, it would be my delight in taking on the challenge of leading and promoting service user engagement in the School of Health and Social Care. As a mental health nurse, I’ve always been captivated by the different ways we engage with one another. Over the years, I have grown to value the use of storytelling as a powerful teaching tool.

Dr Mary Kennedy at a recent SURG meeting.

Storytelling has informed my nursing practice and my belief that by sharing personal stories, we can significantly enrich the teaching and learning experience. By listening to those most affected by an issue, and engaging in reflective conversations, we can connect, build relationships, and ultimately gain a deeper understanding of the people we work with.

Service user engagement

Nobody understands what we need from health and social care services better than the people who use them. These are the “real experts” with life experiences that can help influence future generations of health and social care workers.

The School recognises the value of service user engagement can bring to the educational experience we offer. We’re fortunate to have been supported by our Service User Reference Group for several years.

What is the Service User Reference Group?

Our Service User Reference Group (SURG) comprises service users, carers, and staff members from our teaching and learning community. Service users are involved in a wide range of activities and make contributions to many aspects of the School.

They’re involved in the curriculum’s design, development, and evaluation. Service user involvement ensures that what we teach resonates with the realities of being a receiver of care.

SURG members also get involved in teaching by sharing their lived experiences in a safe and supportive way; this enriches the learning and understanding of students within the academic setting. In addition, by sharing their personal stories and perspectives, service users help students understand the diverse needs and expectations of a wide range of people.

Matt, John and Murray, three active members of the SURG.

In addition, their active involvement and unique insights into service delivery encourage students to develop the correct values, knowledge and attitudes when engaging with and supporting the public.

Finally, our service users get involved with research activity, either as participants or through membership of research projects.

Sharing knowledge and experience

Academic staff, working alongside the SURG, support students to apply and relate theory (and research) into their practice. This means that engaging, sharing, and learning in the School is a joint endeavour, with service users, carers, students, academics, and practice colleagues working in partnership. Together, we want our students to fully understand how to achieve the best and most appropriate care for all members of society.

We have big plans for the future!

One of my ambitions as the Lead for Service User Engagement is to increase the amount of service user involvement in School activity. To facilitate this, I’ve been working with colleagues as well as Georgina Riches, our Operations Manager, to strengthen the systems that support our work. Together we aim to help Heads of Divisions and Programme Leads to identify, well in advance, the critical opportunities for the involvement of service users in a meaningful way. This will allow us to capture all relevant information and plan well ahead of time with our SURG members.

The grand plans do not end there! Of course, in normal circumstances, the SURG would be on campus to participate in teaching, meetings, and interviews. Since lockdown, we’ve had to adopt different approaches (many supported by our wonderful Technology Enhanced Learning team). This involved various online learning activities, such as Zoom training sessions, podcasts to support our simulation teaching and creative writing workshops. Even though we are hopefully returning to some semblance of normality, I would like to continue developing a range of flexible learning resources. So, watch this space as we already have some exciting projects in the pipeline!

How do I get involved in the blog?

What type of content would you like to see on the Involvement Matters blog? Leave a comment below to let us know. The editorial team are keen to encourage everyone, especially health and social care students, to read and discuss the articles. We’re also seeking student contributions to the blog. You can share personal reflections, write a poem, recommend a book or simply share an article that you think might be of interest.

Please get in touch if you want to write something for us, whether you are an experienced blogger or a complete novice. After all, involvement really does matter!