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Why you should keep a reflective journal during placement

As soon as you begin your nursing training, your tutors will immediately start mentioning reflective practice.

Our student adult nurse editor has already blogged about models of reflection and how it relates to the student nurse role. But regardless of whether you like a formalised process or not, there’s no denying that reflection is an integral and highly valuable part of nursing.

The best advice I was given before starting placement was to keep a reflective journal.

Schon (1983) identified two types of reflection – reflection in action and reflection on action. While we perform any task, we are unconsciously reflecting upon what we’re doing. We do the same after we’ve finished that task. There’s no way you will remember everything you encounter on practice, so writing it down can be really helpful.

Models are useful when constructing your reflections in an essay, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated in your journal. It’s as simple as just writing down your thoughts about your clinical processes.

  • What happened?
  • What did you do?
  • What was the outcome?
  • How did you feel? 
  • What went well and what didn’t?
  • How could this inform your future practice?

Being a student nurse can be overwhelming sometimes, but I found that if I had a spare minute to write down and reflect on things it was a lot easier to process in my head. Looking back on our previous experiences gives us a different perspective, allowing us to continually develop as a nurse. Keeping a journal is a good way to link your practice to your theory, as well as making notes of things you’ve encountered and want to research further.  When you need to write an essay on a clinical skill or an experience on placement, looking back on something you’ve done rather than trying to remember it will make the writing process a lot easier.

My favourite thing about keeping a reflective journal is reading it back. The first day of my first placement, I was so nervous that I felt physically sick. Looking back on my reflections, I can see how much my practice has developed in such a short space of year, inspiring me to continue and giving me confidence.

Natalie Moore is the mental health branch student nurse editor for Student Nursing Times.

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