What to do when you're feeling like a spare part
Think you have little do while on placement? Think again …
One of the biggest concerns students have on their placement is being at a loose end.
“I feel like a spare part”, “I don’t know what to do,”, “I am standing around with my hands in my pockets” and “I don’t want to look like I haven’t any work” are some of the many anxieties we hear from students about placements.
So what do you do when you haven’t got a specific task or duty to perform? Mark Hillier, lecturer in nursing at Leeds Metropolitan University, says that’s easy – talk to patients.
“Student nurses often seem to think that unless they are physically doing a test or a task, they are not doing anything. But talking to patients is a hugely important part of therapy and will help patient recovery,” he says.
Leeds Metropolitan University’s Head of school of health and community studies Sue Sherwin agrees. “If there are patients, there’s work to be done,” she says. “Students shouldn’t underestimate how important it is for patients to talk about their hobbies, their families and their lives. Talking about their lives outside of their mental illness or long-term condition can really be a valuable part of wellbeing and promote hope. They can feel a person away from the diabetes or asthma. Students should not underestimate the importance of chatting to patients about things other than their condition or illness.”
Mr Hillier agrees. “When they are on placement, students have a rare opportunity to chat to patients, who can teach them a lot. A lot of qualified nurses would love to be able to have more time for that,” he says. “Work on your art of conversation skills and hone your talents at talking to patients and finding out about them.”
You should learn how to ask open questions – those that begin with who, what, where, when, how and why – which will be an important lifeskill as well as helping you construct dialogue with patients that is useful throughout your career. Note what works and what doesn’t with patients – what makes them feel more open to you and how your tone and body language affects their responsiveness.
Ms Sherwin says you can learn a lot from this aspect of the placement. “I hear this recurrent theme of students coming back and saying they have nothing to do. I say to them: ‘How many patients were on the ward or did you meet today?’. There’s always work to do while you have patients.”
Even without patients, Mr Hillier says you can fill your time by thinking laterally. “If you’re on an orthopaedic ward, do some reading around hip replacements. You can always find something that is relevant and meaningful to do on placement.”