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Our students’ dedication is a credit to the profession

  • 15 Comments

Despite our occasional tendency to romanticise the past, being a student nurse has never been easy. It may have been fun in a ‘Sister reminded me of Stalin with her unwavering discipline, her gulags and the wavy moustache but I learnt a lot polishing that sluice’ sort of way, and we may have found ways to turn the experience into something useful, but that doesn’t mean it was ever easy.

While we may revel in the rewritten hell that was training in the 1970s (we didn’t have electricity back then, you know), 1980s (Duran Duran were often on the radio and you weren’t allowed to turn it off) or 1990s (we had to share a college with geography students) and disdainfully suggest that today’s students don’t know how lucky they are, in truth they don’t have it easy either.

Modern student nurses exist on the edges of everything. While they benefit from the standards and rigour of a university education, they aren’t quite the same as the rest of the students. They don’t get the same holidays, for a start, and often they don’t get the same financial support.

They spend time on wards and emotional energy trying to integrate, understand and learn in a clinical environment that colleagues in the history or art department really don’t have to worry about. And on the wards they can sometimes feel unskilled, or even unseen - in part perhaps because there are so many students and so much else to do that they cannot always get the attention they need or deserve.

‘Sister reminded me of Stalin with her unwavering discipline, her gulags and her wavy moustache. But I learnt a lot polishing that sluice’

And sometimes they are treated a bit like a chore. Something else to attend to, another thing on the gargantuan to-do list to be ticked off. And if you see fear in their eyes you can think ‘it isn’t easy, but learning to cope is the most important lesson there is’ which avoids the fact that we might not be offering them much comfort or warmth.

But, it being the time of year it is, I have had the good fortune recently to listen to some of the work student nurses are doing. Not only the mechanics of how they are contributing to care and developing their skills and confidence but also work around trying to bring positive qualities, ideas and energy to the care settings they work in. I have heard them talk constructively about ‘compassion’ and ‘attentiveness’ in their practice and seen them demonstrate a thoughtful integration that is genuinely impressive. Mostly I have seen them talking with empathy about how to enrich nursing care and frankly it’s inspiring.

While that says a lot about the students, it also says something about the nurses who, despite everything, manage to offer them the support and encouragement they need.

It seems to me that at a time when there is so much to worry about - from pointless managerialism to political disinvestment - it’s worth noting amid the occasional chaos some quiet brilliance, if only because such things make sense of what nursing remains: an expression of skill and humanity for the benefit of strangers called patients.

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  • 15 Comments

Readers' comments (15)

  • Christina Nolan

    At last someone sees it from our point of view.

    It would do well for every qualified member of staff who has a mentorship qulification to read this article, and to sit back and reflect upon it.

    Many thanks Mr Radcliffe from a nursing student

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  • Having just qualified as a trained nurse I agree with Mr Radcliffe's comments wholeheartedly.

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  • Thanks Mark. In your usual style you have managed to capture how it feels to be a student nurse. I'm half way through my final year and I am constantly thinking about how it will feel not to have L plates anymore. I have been prepared for registration by mentors both good and bad; from the good I have learned how to be the kind of mental health nurse that I have become. Bad mentors have taught me how not to nurse and how not to treat others for whom I will be responsible as mentor in my own right. This is the best job in the world and part of it involves the teaching of others; bad mentors should remember that.

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  • Thanks Mark!

    I am a 40+ year old male nursing student. Coming from another profession I am amazed, even gobsmacked at the attitude to students. I was ignored by one mentor for 2 weeks before I was assigned another who I did not work with, then another who was brilliant, but I did not do much work with. All this AND patients to look after. I heard of one student who was told, "We are too busy for students, but don't worry, we will sign your paperwork." How dangerous!

    As a mature student I have have been bullied by nurses in the guise of management. Thankfully I can give an account of myself, but some younger fellow students could not do so. It is tough! Whilst on one placement for 8 weeks, the ward manager never spoke to me once!!! So much for 'excellent communication skills'.

    There appears to be a dichotomy of nurses, those that have gone through an initiation and are part of 'the gang', and then there is the rest of us. Ah well! I know why I am training. :-)

    All that said, I have met great nurses out there and it has been a pleasure to work with them.

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  • on the side of disillusioned mentors; I qualified with huge expectations of 'compassion & attentiveness' & over the last six years feel as tough those feelnigs have been beated with a very large stick.

    As a practising midwife, I still believe I treat women with compassion, although I can no longer care for them in the way I wish I would be treated due to never-ending negative changes to our facilities & management practices.

    Is it not unfair to encourage in students the false hope that they will be able to make a difference when the system absolutely prohibits this? Clearly we have so far failed miserably.

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  • i understand how some of the students feel and as a mature student i found it hard
    some mentors where good some bad, what i found was that when it came to management i had not a lot of help from my mentor, and the same when i retook it,which lead to my failing the degree course. i also found that as a disabled student with dyslexia, the mentors had no idea how to help which i think there should be advice given to all mentors to help students like me achieve a carreer in nursing.

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  • i understand how some of the students feel and as a mature student i found it hard
    some mentors where good some bad, what i found was that when it came to management i had not a lot of help from my mentor, and the same when i retook it,which lead to my failing the degree course. i also found that as a disabled student with dyslexia, the mentors had no idea how to help which i think there should be advice given to all mentors to help students like me achieve a carreer in nursing.

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  • Michael Sandiford

    Great article!

    I've been qualified 3 years ago now, and still shudder sometimes when I think back to how I was treated by staff on some of my placements! Being ignored, being told "they didn't have time for another student", and thats not even getting started on the legendary super numary status!

    At the same time I did have many brilliant placements, with staff who were eager and willing to pass on their skills, despite how busy they were!

    Looking back at my experiences and reading this article seriously affects how I treat student nurses!

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  • It is a sad indictment of the NHS management and the universities for the bullying that is still very prevalent in the health service. Many students give up before they qualify and many more give up after qualifying. In midwifery particularly bullying is a real issue, and it is common place for students to go home in tears.

    I can only commend anyone who gets to the end of their training as they not only have a loan to contend with, but have to study and often work as well in order to survive. I still question the viability of degree training to be a nurse or midwife. It has cost more to train and I question whether the training is better.

    I am grateful I trained in the days when practical experience was considered more useful than the theory and unrealistic aspirations taught to midwives now. You can change the way things are done..... mmmm of course you can, if you wish to make yourself unpopular and do you career absolutely no good at all. Sorry change is hard to influence, as is evident by the bullying, the lack of protection for whistleblowers and so on.....

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  • Below there is a comment about student nurses should not be pushed to believe they can make a difference in the system. I am a 20 year old 1st year student nurse. My reason for becoming a nurse is not be become someone who can make a difference to any system, but to make a difference to patients and other staff. I have been treated prior to my courseby both, good and bad, doctors and nurses, as I am sure most people have. There is nothing worse and nothing better. Thinkin about makin change to a system surely will not pull you through the rubbish times of training. Believing you are making a difference to the way people think of all nurses and the way they see you in your proffession striving to be the best you can i feel is.

    I thought the artical was very interesting. Talented writter.

    Good luck to all students, keep fighting :)

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