Spotlight on an academic

60 second interview….Ian Noonan

Why did you choose a career in nursing?

At school I had wanted to be either a social worker or a vicar, and with hindsight, there are aspects of working as a mental health nurse that include parts of both of those roles. After my first degree, I was working as a freelance musician and training as a music therapist when I first started to work with people who were experiencing mental illness on a music therapy placement. I was really envious of the mental health nurses who were able to respond flexibly and individually to their clients’ needs using a range of different theoretical approaches (social; psychological; medical; interpersonal), using interventions that met the clients’ needs rather than operating within one theoretical approach (as I perceived music therapy to be at the time). I loved the pragmatism, eclecticism, inventiveness and creativity of the nurses’ work with people who were having very distressing experiences. It seemed real: warm, accepting, genuine and empathic. So, I decided to retrain and came back to King’s College London to study mental health nursing.

What do you enjoy most about working as an Mental Health Nurse?

Sackett (2006) describes evidence based medicine as the interaction between the best available evidence, the client’s values, and the clinician’s experience. Mental illness is experienced differently by each one of us so it is sometimes difficult to generalise from the evidence which needs to try and define discretely phenomenon such as schizophrenia or depression, about which there remains debate. This means that as mental health nurses we have to consciously engage with the client’s values and develop our personal and experiential knowledge in order to be able to provide the best possible care for people with whom we are working. I love the demands of being able to access and critique the best available evidence and think how it might be adapted or sometimes even rejected in order to work within a framework that is acceptable and meaningful to the client or carer. This in turn has impacted on how my values and experience have developed. I learn from the people with whom I work.

What do you like most about teaching?

There are moments in teaching when students apply the learning to their own practice in a way that is unique and meaningful to them. It is a sort of eureka moment when someone in a lecture or seminar starts to use the ideas and information being presented and apply it to their practice. I like to think of teaching as creating a gap. A sort of potential or tension between the students’ existing knowledge and experience and something new which if exciting and relevant enough will pull them forward, closing the gap and creating the starting point for the next step. In their Tidal model of mental health practice, Barker and Buchanan-Barker (2004) describe one of the core commitments in mental health care as “crafting the step beyond” – working with the person as they are now, to imagine and envisage the next step and move forward together. I think the best sort of teaching does the same thing.

What motivates you to do your research?

In short – it is when a question needs to be answered. I am currently involved in two research projects and supervising two more MSc students and five BSc students for their dissertations. As a supervisor, I see it as my role to help shape a student’s interest and enthusiasm for a topic into an answerable question. If we get the question right, the rest is easy! Research, teaching and practice all inform each other and for me the motivation comes from their synergistic influence on each other.

What is the aim of your research and what do you hope to discover?

I am running the Self-harm Cessation and Recovery Study (SCARS) and am on the advisory panel for the Qualitative Understanding of the Experience of Suicidal Thoughts (QUEST) both of which are trying to help us understand better the experiences of people who self-harm or who have suicidal thoughts. The first study is attempting to co-construct a model of self-harm cessation with adults who used to self-harm and have managed to stop or choose to no longer self-harm. The hope is that understanding the process of stopping and maintaining a changed behaviour will help us to support people who need help to stop. The second study has a more public health focus and is funded by The Samaritans and Network Rail. We are particularly interested in why people choose or think about particular places as a location or method of attempted suicide and what we might be able to do to reduce this. One of my masters students is also working on this project.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I am a musician and play clarinet and sax in a number of orchestras, bands, and for music theatre and opera. I love living and working in central London and make the most of the opportunity to see and take part in a wide range of arts events and performances. With the Nightingale Choir; Culture & Care Programme; Nursing and the Arts and Arts & Humanities in Midwifery Practice modules, this passion often spills over into the day job!

Why should students choose to study nursing at King’s?

We have excellent relationships with a wide range of partner trusts, private and non-statutory mental health providers and so are able to offer students the combination of exciting, stimulating and challenging clinical education alongside expert and experienced teaching and learning and cutting edge mental health research. We are also a core part of the King’s College London community and there are many opportunities to engage with other disciplines; the Associateship of King’s College London and every possible walk of life – all of which have the potential to influence your knowledge, values and experience as a mental health nurse.

What’s the best advice you could give students who want to study at the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery at King’s?

Start to think about your own values about mental health and mental illness and be open to exploring and challenging these values so that you can develop and learn from the people who will be in your care.

Ian Noonan RN (Mental Health) AKC FHEA
King’s Teaching Fellow & Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing
King’s College London
Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery

For more information on Mental Health Nursing, click here.

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