Psychology students making a difference

James Cook hospital has an ongoing partnership with the university which has seen psychology students work with patients with challenging behaviour. Jonathon Reay from SSSHL with Debi McKeown a lead nurse in the therapeutic support unit.

Collaboration between South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Teesside University is reaping benefits for patients and their families.

Since 2013, almost 150 psychology students from the University’s Department of Psychology have volunteered and worked with staff, patients and families at The James Cook University Hospital.

The partnership began when Debi McKeown, a lead nurse in the therapeutic care team at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, contacted Dr Jonathon Reay at Teesside University to explore opportunities to work in partnership to establish Therapeutic Care Volunteering.

Eight psychology students initially volunteered to work with the patients, many of whom suffered from challenging behaviours and were anxious and frightened.

The students spent time with them, taking parting in therapeutic contact such as games and activities which led to a training programme for the patients.

The trial was extremely successful and the student placements made an immediate impact on the patients’ wellbeing.

Over the intervening six years, the placements have developed into a fully-fledged partnership.

Psychology students at the University can now take part in two 20 credit modules as part of their degree which involve 30 hours of work at the James Cook University Hospital and are assessed by written reflective pieces and a verbal presentation.

Some of the students who have taken part in the work experience have gone on to get jobs at the hospital and a senior support worker is currently studying for a psychology doctorate at the University.

Debi McKeown said: “This has been an incredibly successful partnership and has made a real difference to the support that we’re able to give people in our care.

“Because the students have got a psychology background, rather than a nursing one, they bring a very different perspective to our team which is enormously beneficial to all involved.”

Dr Jonathon Reay, Associate Dean in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law, said: “We are delighted about the impact this collaboration has made in our local community and providing opportunities to our own students.

“It’s particularly gratifying to see it develop into a two-way partnership where not only are our students learning vital real-world skills by helping vulnerable patients, but the NHS trust is able to feedback into the content of our courses.

“This ensures that our students are learning exactly the skills which are needed to make a real difference in the workplace when they graduate.”

For more information on courses in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law visit