Nurses share their insights into what’s in store for students, from handling the workload to making new friends
You start at the deep end when training to be a nurse: you’ll be expected to take on real responsibilities from your first day on placement. We spoke to students and professionals to find out what’s in store for students.
It’s important to pace yourself – and pick your moments for questions
You’re going to have a lot of academic and professional work thrown at you, so you need to be organised. I’ve handled it by giving myself weekends off and using the week to get everything else done. It’s really important to pace yourself throughout placements and not let your academic work pile up, because you’ll be exhausted otherwise. It is obvious when people don’t – they go home to do academic work after a 12-hour shift and come in the next day looking like death.
Never be afraid to ask questions, but do pick your moments. The wrong moment would be, for example, when an anaesthetist is struggling to get air into somebody. It’s not always clear how high pressure the job is and it can be hard to judge the personalities around you when you’ve got limited experience. A lot of people in the room don’t notice, so sometimes they ask questions and get a sharp response. If in doubt, go to your mentor first – that’s what they’re there for.
James*, student theatre nurse
Camaraderie is key
I’ve worked in the NHS for 33 years; I have seen and done a lot. In the early days, student nurses all lived together near the hospital. If you had a bad day or something bad happened, there were shoulders to lean on and experiences were shared. You helped each other.
I remember when one of my friends failed her aseptic technique assessment. Everyone stayed up with her most of the night, going through all the theory, practising cleaning techniques and putting dressings on a teddy. She passed to perfection the next day, and we’re still friends now.
Today’s student nurses live in university halls, which can be noisy and disruptive, especially if you’re working nights or start at 7am. Those living arrangements don’t always foster that same spirit of togetherness, but it’s important to nurture it.
Elizabeth*, senior sister in an emergency department
The terminology can be confusing
As a second-year student nurse, A&E was my first really acute placement and a lot of what was going on was new and intimidating. I’d been hiding at the back with a student doctor during one trauma, when the surgical consultant shouted: “Someone get me some jelly!” The previous patient had bled a lot and we used a lot of gelofusine (known as “jelly”) to replace it. I was keen to do something helpful, so I ran out of the room and burst back in holding as many bags of gelofusine as I could carry.
But I found the patient rolled on his side with his trousers down and everyone staring at me – they were expecting a small tube of K-Y Jelly for a rectal exam. I could have died of embarrassment. I had to slink back to my corner, still holding armfuls of the wrong jelly.
Sarah*, emergency department staff nurse
Not everyone will be nice
The quality of support and mentoring on a placement can really vary. I’ve had good experiences overall, but not always. I witnessed bullying between nurses once. During that same placement I needed extra support due to personal circumstances with an early pregnancy, but the ward sister told me: “Your placement comes first”. We had every right as students to negotiate shorter shift patterns, but I was made to feel like an idiot for daring to ask. I was too overcome with fatigue and hormones to challenge her.
The quality of support and mentoring on a placement can vary. I’ve had good experiences overall, but not always
The irony is that we are taught to approach each patient individually, with a non-judgmental, caring attitude, but when I needed the same thing I was met with the opposite. The experience really made me consider how ward cultures can vary.
Katherine*, third-year student nurse
You need a strong stomach – and a sense of humour
In my first five minutes on the ward of my first placement, someone had a massive haematemesis in front of me and vomited blood all over the place. I nearly fainted.
I used to faint quite a bit, actually. I once had to hold a leg up in an awkward position so that the matron could dress the wound. I bent over the bed but it was really hot and I was there for about half an hour. I passed out. The matron had to scoop me up, carry me out and dump me in a chair, then get someone else to help her. It’s amazing I finished my training.
We used to do really silly things, like if someone was leaving they would get covered in plaster. Always make time to see the funny side, even when things are horrific – it’s gallows humour.
Kate, adult safeguarding nurse
Teamwork always helps when things get intense
I was a second-year student on the acute stroke ward, working my umpteenth night shift. I spent a lot of the night half asleep, taking elderly patients who had wandered off back to their beds, when all of a sudden my mentor got beeped to go to A&E.
We took our massive thrombolysis suitcase down six floors and waited for the patient. We took her bloods, did her obs, got her on a cardiac monitor and took her for a CT scan, all in less than 10 minutes. She could still move, her face wasn’t drooping and her speech wasn’t slurred – she only had slight a headache and had fainted at home. But it all became clear in the CT. It wasn’t a lack of blood to her brain that was causing a stroke; it was the fact she was already bleeding.
We took her to the ward for monitoring but something went wrong. She wasn’t responding to our voices and we couldn’t get her to wake up. She had another, much larger bleed which was putting pressure on her brain. She had to be transferred to intensive care and everyone went into overdrive. It’s been six years since then and I don’t know what happened to that patient, but we worked as a team and provided the best care we could.
Joe*, haemotology registered nurse
By Zofia Niemtus, The Guardian
*Names have been changed
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