Abertay University: Facilitating resilience through reflective practice groups

The Division of Health Sciences, Abertay University, notes that nursing students need high levels of resilience to deal with academic and professional demands, together with pressures from their personal and private lives. Research published by the Journal of Advanced Nursing has highlighted that student nurses can have poorer health behaviours than the general population. The new NMC standards stipulate the need for resilient graduates entering the workforce. Therefore, Abertay University has developed an initiative to build and maintain resilience amongst its nursing students.

Key actions taken:

  • Abertay University introduced weekly reflective practice group sessions into the third-year mental health nursing placement module, as a pilot in the 2018/19 academic year.
  • Using the Gibbs Model and supported by experienced academics, students were invited to discuss, share and reflect on aspects of practice that presented real or potential challenges to their emotional wellbeing. This was designed to enhance self-awareness, to gain or provide psychological support, and to facilitate understanding of their own and others’ reactions to the workplace environment.
  • Students were encouraged to keep a reflective practice journal (a template drawing on Gibbs’ methodology was provided to help session preparation).
  • The initiative was designed to enable students to practice self-compassion and deploy self-care strategies, to explore and embrace the uncertainties and complexities of contemporary mental health nursing, to appreciate interpersonal and emotional group dynamics, and to develop a sense of their own identity and values as a nurse.
  • Confidentiality was an essential factor and there were clear parameters for the facilitator to apply to ensure that the discussion focused on professional issues and was developmental.
  • Students were encouraged to self-manage the discussion and to foster their group facilitation skills. Participants were aware that these were not therapy sessions and if it became evident that additional support was needed the facilitator would signpost appropriate pastoral services.


This intervention is now being implemented at all stages of the mental health nursing degree. It is the intention that the reflective practice group has the same student membership (and where possible the same facilitator) for the entire three-year duration of the programme. The university is exploring the concept of senior students acting as facilitators for early year colleagues in the future. Aside from developing good emotional self-care mechanisms, it is hoped that by immersing students in a reflective practice methodology this will aid preparation for the professional requirements of revalidation as a registrant.

Students have commented to say they have appreciated the time and space to develop their reflective practice skills, and to work in a group setting while listening and supporting others. Feedback has highlighted the positive impact on wellbeing.

‘Our reflective practice group is the most beneficial hour in the university week, it’s… a place we can vent, discuss, laugh, cry, console, challenge, discuss and talk, knowing it’s a safe space’

Mental Health Nursing Student, Abertay University