My worst placement encompassed all the things everyone complains about. Unwelcoming staff, no learning opportunities, feeling constantly lost, nomentor, sly comments… The list goes on.
You really can learn lessons from every placement, even if it is what not to do. My worst placement got off to a bad start from the second I walked in.
I can see how I looked to the staff that day - 19 years old, uncomfortable in my never-before-worn nursing uniform, painfully shy and a little out of breath from running around the hospital for the past half hour trying to find the ward. (Lesson 1: Always find out where your placement is before you’re meant to be there…)
The ward sister was one of those people who seemed only vaguely aware that other people existed. She saw me, acknowledged I was another student and began talking.
And then she continued to talk. She didn’t let me add anything, ask questions, nothing.
I eventually managed to ask her about my mentor – a question drilled in to us in Uni the week before – and then she stopped talking. Put her hands on her hips and sighed.
“Well. We didn’t know you were coming so I don’t know what you expect us to do about that.”
I had rung ahead. I swear. I’d rung and asked the usual questions about uniform and told them when I was starting. But clearly this was not an argument I was going to win.
She showed me around, or rather showed me to the staff room and the tea-making facilities and went off for a gossip. I had a sneaky feeling I was to be the subject of that gossip. (Lesson 2: try not to take things personally, they’re probably not about you specifically but the culture of the workplace.)
So I decided the best thing to do was to throw myself in.
Ask for things to do – that’s what everyone advises right? And who wouldn’t want a student offering to help? Well, the majority of the staff employed by this particular unit, as it turns out.
“Why don’t you organise some spokes?” Was a frequent response. A spoke, for those who trained with a different trust, is spending a day on another ward or unit to further broaden your experience. A fantastic way of getting more out of your placement, but not traditionally used as an alternative to your placement. (Lesson 3: If there’s something you want to try and can’t, find somewhere you can)
“You just watch”, was another line I heard a lot of. And yes, watching is useful. It’s just that, when you’re watching a wound being packed for the 20th time, you start to wonder if perhaps you could be doing something more beneficial.
Asking wasn’t helping, so I let people come to me if they wanted me to do or watch anything. Initially this went down well and they almost seemed to warm to the presence of a non-mithersome student.
But it wasn’t a long-term solution. I remember coming in one day and sitting in the staff room listening intently to the handover. Then everyone left to go and get on with whatever they were getting on with – packing wounds I expect – and I waited for someone to suggest I watched. But no-one did.
I spent the next hour reading a book about penguins.
What I could have done differently …
It wasn’t all bad, honestly. I took the spoke advice on board and spent at least 50% of my time on a different ward where I learnt about nursing rather than the migration habits of emperor penguins.
What I should have done, clearly, was speak to my tutors (Lesson 4: Talk to someone!). But it’s very difficult to know whether you’re the one being unreasonable when you’re new to a situation. But you shouldn’t feel like that on placement. The nurses you’re meant to be looking up to should not be embarrassing you by suggesting your bag charm is a sex toy.
Don’t put up with it. If any of this sounds familiar, ring your university and get yourself moved somewhere else.
It will be worth it.