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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

Student nurse Katrina Michelle Rowan

Student nurse 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.


Beth Morris

Student nurse Beth Morris

Student nurse Beth Morris

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.


Erin Doherty

Student nurse Erin Doherty

Student nurse Erin Doherty

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.


Readers' comments (26)

  • Beth Morris-you've hit the nail on its head!!!

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  • I agree-but I don't think it's a good thing! I am a third year nursing student and I'm afraid I will never get used to the bullying and often unfriendly world of nursing. I'm a pretty tough cookie but I'm not prepared to compromise my personality and desire to actually be nice to people in order to succeed in nursing. As soon as I finish my training,I intend to do further training and move away from the bitchy hospital environment. I wonder how many other people with a genuine desire to care for patients in a nice and friendly manner have been put off like me? Ultimately,this means patients suffer-I think there should definitely be more emphasis on compassion in today's world of nursing.

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  • Its so hard being on a ward full of bitchy nurses who make u feel that your going to be the worse nurse in the world, but I know im not as I try my hardest at everything I do and love taking care of people. At the end of the day placement is only a small number of weeks out the fantastic career infront of us and will hopefully never be near the people who made me feel worthless again

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  • I am a student nurse and I have also experienced quite a few bitchy frustrated female nurses. Thank fully there are some good role models that are very helpful, but it is interesting why so many nurses seem to be working in an environment with patients who need good nursing care but are often subjected to moody uptight nurses. I hope that I recognize in myself if I am becoming burnt out and my mood affects the quality of my nursing care. Because of the quality of nurses in some hospitals I have been a student in I realise that the hospital environment is not where I want to work for to long. My dream is to work in the community with people at home so I can practise at the pace I like away from the all the bitching of people with unfullfilled lives.

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  • I find it very sad that student nurses are being put off working in a hospital environment. I too had bad experiences as a student, my confidence was knocked numerous times, however I feel that these experiences will be what will set me aside from being the nurse that is moody and critical to having motivation and more dedication to becoming a role model to future students. How else will things change if we all shy away???

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  • a student nurse on her first visit to the ward from the classroom told the ward sister not to tell her off in front of a patient. the reply was they all know that you don't know anything - what an encouraging start! it shocked us all but also filled us with admiration that she had dared to speak up to a sister in this way the response she got also shocked us. she was Americian and tended to be more outspoken than her English counterparts and after her initial surprise and anger at such a retort it may have slid off her like water off a duck's back but I have never forgotton it or the often bigotted attitudes of many nurses and ward sisters I encountered throughout my training and afterwards.

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  • I have been a nurse for many years than i care to remember and sadly i have to agree with many of the comments above i do not understand the bitchy bullying nature i hate it i now work in the community and still i find this sort of culture there
    the ward sister was wrong and i admire that student for standing up to that sister hopefully she is not there any more nursing doesnt need that sort of attitude of any of its staff regardless of what grade you
    students are there to learn and be supported
    but i also agree with other comments learn from the Hcas they are a fount of knowledge they knoiw their way around a ward
    and do basic care how do you know how patients pressure areas are? how they are feeling ? whats worrying them? how a wound site is healing or catheter is draining the list is endless, this is how you learn assessment skills
    i enjoy having student nurses i see it as a two way relationship and we can learn from them too

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  • "Don’t refer to patients by their condition or bed number -learn their names! That and a kind word can work wonders."

    Excellent article and we have, thank goodness moved on from the above piece of advice.

    I wonder if you know how it used to be? As the junior nurse (First year) on my first set of nights it was my 'duty' to take night sister round the 30-bedded Nightingale surgical ward and tell her the bed number, consultant's name and diagnosis, current condition and how many days post-op each patient was. No notes were allowed, I never had a good memory (at least I didn't have to remember the patients' names as these were of no interest to sister!) and couldn't pronounce let alone remember half the names of their disorders or the operations they had had. The first five or so all went well as I learned all this by heart but after than I began to falter and was marched back to the desk by sister where she severely reprimanded the third year student in charge of the ward as her junior did not know her patients well enough!

    These and many other experiences have never been forgotton and can mark a nurse for life, although fortunately in my case they are accompanied by some happier memories and experiences during my career as a qualified nurse.

    My life as a nurse only began once I was qualified and has opened up so many doors and with each shift, containing so many unknows and new experiences, better than the last.

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  • I am a HCA and am extremely lucky that I work in a GP practice where I am not treated as a lackey or an idiot and have such a positive environment that I am hoping to move into nursing. I knew hospitals could be bitchy (as a patient I've had some fairly nasty nurses!) but am beginning to realise how much, however I won't let it put me off. A friend recently qualified and said she spent six weeks last year with one mentor who told her every little thing she did wrong would let her take the lead in situations then pull her apart, it almost put her off. The appraisal afterwards was a testimony to her hard work, ability to learn and take constructive criticism so she now appreciates what the mentor was trying too achieve and this is the information I will take with me into training. I do appreciate the student nurses here taking the time to pass on their knowledge and experiences.

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  • after two days I will start my clinic practice as a student hopefully everythings will be good to have healty environment to learn.

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