How to survive as a student nurse
So your life as a student nurse is about to begin. Are you ready? Three student nurses give you the lowdown on what will get you through and help you make the most of the experience ahead
Katrina Michelle Rowan
My first day as a student nurse was the most terrifying and the most exciting day of my life. I remember being scared about everything. Would I make any friends? Would I understand the academic side after being out of education for over 10 years? Would I cope on the wards? Would I be able to manage giving my first bedbath? Now, 2 ½ years into my training, I have conquered all those fears and loved every minute.
If you’re feeling nervous, let me reassure you. You are about to start the most amazing adventure. The next few years will be the most rewarding of your life.
Being a student nurse is a privilege and a wonderful experience. Yes it can be hard, yes you may struggle, but every moment is worth it. As you learn, you will acquire valuable memories that will stay with you throughout your career.
Pick yourself up if you have a bad day, cry if you need to… then put it down to experience and face the new day with a smile. The good days far outweigh the bad and thanks from a patient will make your heart sing.
The next few years may be tough, but you can, and will, get through them. You will make friends who will stay with you for the rest of your life. Hold on to those special people who encourage and support you.
So what’s the most important thing to do as you embrace this new stage of your life? Enjoy it! Good luck to everyone who is embarking on this wonderful career - you won’t regret a minute of it.
Katrina’s top tips
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but try your hardest and be proud of your achievements.
- Always hand in drafts of work so you can stay on the right track. Your marks should benefit.
- Never try and do something if you are unclear about what you’ve been asked to do. It is always better to ask - 10 times if needs be - so you understand 100%.
- Learn to laugh at yourself. You will make mistakes, but that is how you learn. I learnt never to yank a stuck bedpan out of a commode, especially if the contents aren’t solid.
- If you have a personal tutor - use them. They will be the one to write your reference so introduce yourself and keep them up to date with your progress and achievements.
- Keep a diary and/or write reflective accounts of your experiences. This may seem like a chore but when you read it, you’ll realise just how far you’ve come. It’s also a good way of venting emotions and putting things in perspective.
- Don’t refer to patients by their condition or bed number -learn their names! That and a kind word can work wonders.
It’s pointless embarking on nurse training thinking everyone will think you are the best thing to happen to nursing. Do yourself a massive favour and get some thick skin. Learning to “take it on the chin” will protect you from the harshness of everything you say and do for three years being scrutinised and pulled apart. Also, realise that there won’t be any point sulking when you are referred to as “the student”, rather than by your name.
As a student, it is a certainty that you will be criticised - constructively and otherwise - regardless of how well you might think you are doing. There will be times when nothing even needs to be said for the disapproval to be tangible (if you are late for handover, for example).
Get used to it - personal assessments and appraisals are part of the job.
Be prepared to be told that you are not perfect - and don’t become too sensitive. Nobody wants a student who runs out wailing hysterically because they have been told their uniform could do with an iron.
That isn’t to say that your skin should be so tough and gnarly that you become “rhino nurse”. There is a very fine line between insight and indifference. Listen to feedback and accept it with good grace. Understand that it probably isn’t personal and that prompted changes may be necessary - use it to your advantage. Mentors have your best interests at heart, and it is their responsibility to bring capable, safe and well adjusted nurses into the profession. As such, they need to polish up any rough edges.
Be aware, however, that bullying is never acceptable; nor is unjustified criticism that may jeopardise your progress or knock your confidence. If you have concerns, get the practice facilitators involved pronto.
Along with thick skin, it is hugely beneficial to also have a sense of humour because it isn’t just your mentor who will be watching you. Some patients will gladly tell you that your bum looks big and you look tired.
Respect healthcare assistants. They know the wards inside out and will take the time to show you how to make a bed properly. If you’re looking for something, they will know where to find things. Form good relationships with HCAs and they will support you.
Make sure you know what you are doing. Make sure you understand and are capable of doing exactly what has been asked. Nobody will think less of you for being careful.
If a patient asks “Am I going to be OK?”, think very carefully about the response. We all went into nursing wanting to help heal people, but it’s imperative that you never make a promise that can’t be kept. Seek advice from your mentor.
Don’t be afraid to cry. I wouldn’t recommend you do it on the ward, but it is perfectly OK to cry. We all have awful days as student nurses and it’s important to deal with them. And then it’s time to move on - tomorrow will bring new challenges and new people.
Never refuse a task without good reason. Believe it or not, I have worked on placements with students who refused to make beds and shower patients - they viewed this as an HCA’s job. Basic care is the grounding of our occupation and you should never forget that. Patients’ needs come before paperwork.
When working in messy wards, take a spare uniform for your locker. Turning up in your crisp white tunic for a shift and having it soiled half an hour later is infuriating. Be prepared for all eventualities.
It is OK to ask for help. Emotional, educational or practical support should always be available if you need it. Nursing is a demanding job. Some things take longer to learn than others and some situations will be new to you, so don’t be afraid to lean on those around you.