RCN Congress Guide: Attending RCN Congress as an E...

RCN Congress Guide: Attending RCN Congress as an English student nurse

I’m a student member of RCN, the Royal College of Nursing. That means for a tenner a year I get access to academic resources such as journals and books and things, as well as a direct line to the RCN’s legal team, placement advice etc. They, along with uni, also provide indemnity insurance. Just in case something goes horrifically wrong, I guess. And every year they hold RCN Congress. This is a chance for all members, whether first-year students or long-time retirees, to see how the RCN have been doing for the year as well as vote on resolutions for the future. This year was the 50th anniversary of Congress and was a pivotal chance to see how far the union has come.

It was also the year nurses, in an unprecedented number, voted for a summer of protest activity in response to a 1% pay cap, 14% in real terms when you take the rising cost of inflation into account. But I digress.

Congress is an incredible part of being a member of the College, and it’s something I’d advise nursing students to attend if they can. So. What can you expect if you manage to book a ticket and some time off?

RCN Congress guide for students


So Congress is free to attend for members, and the next one is happening 12-16th May 2018 at Belfast Waterfront Arena. Start by registering your interest so you’ll be informed when tickets are ready. If you’re part of a nurse’s union or uni group there may be a chance for funding to cover your hotel and travel costs (uni covered my travel).

Dress Code

It’s really informal. Think leggings with a long top, black trousers with a casual blazer, dress and tights etc. I did see a few people in jeans and slouchy clothes, so the option’s there, but as you’re a student you’ll be given a pink t-shirt to wear for the day anyway so try not to worry too much. The tee helps other attendees know you’re in training and exhibitors know you’re not able to make decisions about tissue viability products and anti-ligature solutions!

Student Events

On two days students will have their own programme with little hubs open to ask questions about placement, the degree, mentors or future career plans. They also hold exclusive workshops with lecturers and professors that help increase knowledge and can meet some of your uni’s learning objectives too.

Student Social

This is a chance for all students to get to know each other, held on the event of a student session. I was planning to attend but as my place was last minute, my hotel was miles away from the action. Next year, though!

The Format

Congress is a chance to hear from everyone, whether student or HCA or advanced nurses. Each day has a plan of action and you’ll be given a guide when you arrive telling you what’s what. Inside are the debates and discussions to be held. If it’s a debate, then it’ll be introduced, and anyone (literally anyone) is able to stand at the podium and speak. Perhaps you disagree with a debate point or have a personal experience to share. All are welcome. I wasn’t brave enough this time round, but next year I will be!

Topics discussed included whether nursing students should have placement hour requirements cut, whether more research should be commissioned into autism spectrum conditions (both were voted against), whether nurses should strike (an overwhelming yes) and others. One discussion that was quite lively was whether students are showing manipulative behaviours when it’s likely they’ll fail a placement…

Voting members sit towards the front, and will be given a card. When an item is brought to its conclusion and everyone’s had their say within the allotted time, members will be asked to vote, either for or against. In some cases, members might abstain and their grey card will be noted.

The exhibition

If you’re not so fussed about sitting listening to lectures there are exhibition stalls to browse, everything from recruitment stations to NHS trusts. I ended up making a great contact for when I graduate, with a guaranteed job offer as long as I get at least a 2:1…

I loved every moment of Congress, even changing my train time to make sure I could fit in the AGM. It’s a great way to see the state of nursing at the moment, make worthwhile contacts, meet other students, and feel encouraged to complete the course. Definitely see if you can make it next year! I know I’ll be there. (Seriously, I’ve just booked my hotel.)


Spend some time looking over the agenda before you arrive and definitely get your hands on a guide as you enter. If you feel strongly about a debate, resolution or discussion, get your answer written and join in!
Get lots of pens! Each exhibition stall has thousands ready to be taken by eagle-eyed students.
Win brownie points with your mentor and bring them back something that might help them in practice. Even if it doesn’t, it shows you’re thinking about your placement team and service users.

Tweet! You may even see your words on the big screen…