Your questions answered by Nicki Abel, MS specialist nurse, University Hospitals Birmingham, and lecturer practitioner at Birmingham City University.
1. As a student nurse, what can I do to support those with MS?
Educate: Those with newly diagnosed MS are often scared and frightened of what lies ahead. Often they have been exposed to myths and misunderstandings regarding what the disease is and how it might affect them. They are inclined to believe the worst and feel that a wheelchair life is inevitable. But, for most, this is not the case. So, a major part of what you can do is to educate the individual regarding 'what is MS' and the lifestyle adjustments that can make a difference. Challenge the misunderstandings they have and educate people accurately. Develop more than a 'basic' understanding; read from reputable journals; make sure your knowledge is correct and up to date; be aware of new treatments and read about 'living with MS' so you can show empathy and understanding. Let them know about the MS Trust website and reassure them that the information they find there is accurate, evidence based and up to date.
Show you care: Be genuinely interested in how the patient is and find out more about them. What is it that you can do to promote comfort or a sense of well-being for the patient and their family? Spend time with the person and their family. Practice your skills at 'active listening'. Ask how they are feeling, and really listen to what they have to say. If they ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, go and find out, this way you will learn too and be more informed in case you are asked the same question in the future. It’s okay to say that you’re not sure about the answer to a question.
Let them know they are not alone: Some people who are newly diagnosed feel lonely and apprehensive. If this is the case, ask if they wish to meet others with MS. This is not for everyone, but can help some. Inform them about local MS support groups that they can attend. If they would rather interact online, discuss the online chat rooms they might wish to take part in; the added advantage of these is that they are available 24 hours, even in the middle of the night there maybe someone online to chat to.
Find out their top 3 worries and concerns: sit with the patient and help them identify the 3 main worries/questions/concerns that they have. This will help them prioritise concerns and help them become active in their own care and management. Often people with MS can feel overwhelmed, particularly during times of change, such as after diagnosis. It is important that you enable them to start to tackle their problems to help them feel they are in control and make decisions and changes that are necessary.
2. How do I become an MS Nurse?
MS Specialist Nursing is an exciting role to work within. Many enjoy high levels of autonomy and there are a growing number of Nurse Prescribers. There are generally good levels of succession planning with new MS Nurses starting at band 5 or 6 and working their way up the grading ladder as they become more experienced and competent. Some work in isolation, but most work in MS Nursing teams of 2 or more.
New drugs and treatments are evolving all the time and this makes it a dynamic working environment. Many people with MS are diagnosed young, and face challenges such as going to University, having children; bringing up young families and many more. MS Nurses can make a significant difference to managing these life events with MS. There are a range of settings that you can work within such as the community or the acute trust. Some MS Nurses work in the Rehabilitation arena.
All new NHS MS Nurses can apply for a week’s MS residential training that is provided by the MS Trust and, upon successful completion, has University accreditation.
So, what can you do? Of course, the first thing you need to do is qualify as a Registered Nurse. That said, you can become involved with the MS community even as a student. There are a range of MS volunteering opportunities that you could consider that will provide you with good experience of working with those with MS that will be valuable on your CV. Look out for your local MS Support Group that meets. You may also wish to volunteer with support groups for those with a physical disability.
Once you have qualified, you may wish to work on a Neurological Ward which will provide you with fundamental experience of professional practice as well as specific experience of working with those with MS, amongst other neurological conditions. As long as your workplace allows, you could then ask to shadow the local MS Nurses or/and become the ward's 'MS Link Nurse'.
After you are in post as a new MS nurse, it is recommended that you completed the MS Nurse Pro online course and (after approximately 6 months in post) attend the development module for new MS nurses and specialist therapists, run by the MS Trust and accredited by Birmingham City University. This is a week-long residential course run twice a year in March and September/October.
3. How do I find out who the local MS Nurse or MS Team are in the local area?
There is a map of MS services that you can link to which will enable you to search for MS health professionals (including MS nurses, neuro-specialist physiotherapists and occupational therapists, as well as other AHPs) within your local area, or in fact any area within the UK that you may care to search. This is always kept up-to-date.
It may also be worth making use of local networks of MS nurses/health professionals where they exist. There’s no substitute for speaking to experienced professionals face-to-face about what they do on a daily basis to provide effective MS care. This will also be an opportunity to hear about local health and social care services available to people with MS from local health professionals.
If you would like some further guidance about finding MS health professionals in your area, feel free to contact the MS Trust’s health professionals programme team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MS Nurses have a Specialist Nurse Association (UKMSSNA) that provides support, information and education to MS Specialists throughout the UK. There is lots of useful information on there if you want to take a look.
4. Are there any MS blogs that I could read or subscribe too?
Yes, there is a range. Some are written by people with MS that share real life experiences. There are too many to highlight here, but take a look on Google and see which you like best.
Others are hosted by Healthcare professionals who wish to educate and inform regarding the latest evidence based practice, such as the BartsMS Blog (a blog written by an MS neurologist and the MS team at Barts Health NHS Trust, which is very popular amongst both professionals and people with MS) or mirandasmsblog(a blog written by an MS nurse with a holistic approach, which features useful and practical tips).
5. I would like to do some fundraising for the MS Trust, how do I do this?
There are lots of great opportunities and experiences for anyone who'd like to raise funds for the MS Trust.
The MS Trust relies on donations and the hard work of its dedicated fundraisers to fund its vital work, so anything you could do to help would be greatly appreciated.
6. I want to know more about current research and developments going on in MS, where is a good place to start?
A good way to hear about research currently going on in the world of MS is the MS Trust’s research updates. These are a condensed summary of developments with links to further information. Sign up for research updates.
Also on the MS Trust website is a list of opportunities for people with MS to get involved in current research, information about drugs in development, and research opportunities for therapists in MS.
7. What do MS nurses do on a day-to-day basis?
MS specialist nurses work to very busy schedules and have a lot of responsibilities and tasks (as is the case with all nursing roles!). Many, but certainly not all, MS nurses work full time.
A typical day as an MS nurse might include:
- Answering emails and phone calls from people with MS, carers and family members
- Running/working in a clinic (for instance for DMD monitoring, or for people experiencing certain symptoms, or for people undergoing transitions)
- Appointments with people with MS (and their carer/family member(s))
- Liaising with other professionals, both within the team (such as other nurses, neurologists and therapists) and externally (such as social care services, rehabilitation centres and representatives from Home Care companies)
- Reading up on current research, developments and practical methods for improving MS care
- Some administrative tasks, but ideally most of these are done by a coordinator/administrator
- Contributing to resources, such as journal articles, resources for people with MS being developed by charities/companies, and education programmes for MS health professionals
Any other questions you’d like answering? Email your questions to us today.
A to Z of MS
The A to Z of MS contains a wide range of information about MS such as, symptoms and treatments, medical information and all aspects of living with MS.