It may sound cheesy, but starting your nursing course really is the beginning of the rest of your life. I started my training a year ago and still remember the pep talk I had from my friends - “Be nice” - that’s what they told me. I didn’t realise that they, my friends of 15 years, actually thought I was anything less than nice!
On my first day, I found myself chatting to another new student who was also studying learning disability nursing and somehow told her that I wasn’t at university to make friends. How wrong can one person be? We still laugh about it now.
It turns out that making friends is a very big part of university life.
So, if I could give you just one piece of advice, I’d tell you to be sociable. This doesn’t mean you have to go out drinking every night. Just talk to people and don’t restrict your circle of friends to people from your branch. Fellow students will be more than just who you attend classes with - they will become your support network. You’ll find yourself helping each other with all sort of things - advice for assignments, best free parking spots or even what to avoid at the canteen.
Take some time to read around course topic areas. If you’re scheduled to go on placement, find out what goes on there beforehand. I recently attended practice placement with a community support team and had no idea what to expect. One of the main roles of the learning disability community nurse was to ensure up-to-date epilepsy profiles were in place for their patients. We had touched on epilepsy before starting this placement but I feel I would have benefitted from a more in-depth knowledge base. This is where doing your own research would come in handy - just make sure any information you find comes from a reliable source.
Always remember that your lecturers are there for you. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid of looking stupid - you’re only a fool if you don’t ask! Use this time to take charge of your learning and your life.
You chose to do this course for a reason, so most importantly - have fun!
For learning disability nursing students, there is a fantastic event that I would recommend to you all. It’s called the Positive Choices Conference. It takes place over two days with a social night out in between. It’s a good opportunity to network with other students and professionals from all over the UK. I went this year and met some wonderful people that I still keep in touch with now.
Next year it is being hosted by Kingston University, London, on March 20th and 21st 2014. Places are limited so look into it sooner rather than later. Get a group of friends together and have an experience you’ll never forget. I’m going with a gang from my cohort and we are already planning our trip.
Claire Harries is the Student Nursing Times editor for learning diabilities branch