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Student nurse blog: A sad farewell, but I will be back


Erin Docherty’s final blog (for now) has some survival tips for students everywhere. Essential reading for the student nurse!

It turns out that I was right to be panicking about that last essay. I failed it. Meaning I failed the semester. Resulting in the need to retake the semester.

Three semesters from qualifying and an essay stops me in my tracks. I am now on leave of absence until May next year where I will start again.

Yes, it was upsetting - I felt lost for days. It was a bit humiliating telling all these people I had spent two years studying with that I was not going to be graduating with them. But I’m still here. I am absolutely determined to finish this course and if it means 7 months on leave then so be it.

I feel even now that I have lost a bit of myself. I can no longer call myself a student nurse for the next 7 months. I have a job in a call centre to see me through. However, before I disappear into the world without continence products, blood results and therapeutic holistic care, I thought it would be a good opportunity to leave a few pointers I’ve picked up for my fellow Scottish students going into placement for the first time! It’s scary I know! But maybe these tips will make it that little bit easier!

  1. Always show the utmost respect to the auxiliaries. These people know the wards inside out and will take the time to show you how to make a bed properly. If you’re ever looking for something they will know where to find it and you can be sure that, if you form good relationships with the nursing assistants, they will support you through the nine weeks.

  2. Always make sure you know what you are doing. If you are asked by another member of staff to carry out a task, then don’t second guess it. Make sure you understand and are capable of doing exactly what has been asked. Nobody will think less of someone for being careful.

  3. Never be afraid to make the tea! No matter what anyone says, making the tea on the tea break can go a long way. It shows you aren’t afraid to muck in and can also lead to a few invitations to staff nights out!

  4. If a patient asks “Am I going to be OK nurse”, think very carefully about the response. We all went into nursing wanting to help heal people, but you must always make sure you never make promises that aren’t certain. Seek advice from your mentor.

  5. If you are finding things particularly hard, always try and resolve it on the ward before contacting the university - staff and mentor’s will all appreciate the opportunity to resolve issues on ward level and it may also help mend relationships. Only contact the university if it cannot or has not been resolved.

  6. Don’t be afraid to cry. I wouldn’t recommend you do it on the ward, but it is perfectly ok to cry. We all have awful days as student nurses and it’s important that you deal with the bad day and then move on. Tomorrow will bring new challenges and new people.

  7. Never refuse a task without good reason - believe it or not I have worked on placements with other students who refused to make beds and shower patients - they viewed this as an auxiliary job. Basic care is the grounding of our occupation and you should never forget that. Patients’ needs come before the paper work.

  8. When working in particularly “messy” wards it’s always a good idea to take a spare uniform for your locker. There is nothing worse than turning up in your crisp white tunic for a shift and having it soiled half an hour later. Be prepared for all eventualities!

  9. It is ok to ask for help! Should you ever need emotional, educational or practical support this should always be available to you. It’s a demanding job, some things take longer to learn than others; some situations will be completely new to you, so lean on those around you when you need to.

  10. Work alongside all the staff. Although you will be given a mentor, it is important to understand that every qualified nurse has some responsibility towards your learning. There will be times your mentor goes off sick or is on annual leave, and by working alongside all the staff you will prepare yourself well should any of these situations occur.

Just ten tips. Could have written a book, but life is about learning. So as I go off to answer calls for the next seven months, I want to send you all the best of wishes as you embark on this first placement. Enjoy it. Never take it for granted. Treat every patient as you would want to be treated.

Thank you also to Gabriel Fleming for giving me the opportunity to contribute these blogs. I hope you’ll have me back next year!

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Readers' comments (15)

  • i understand where erin comes from, as a student nurse i failed my semester 4 essays, and had to take leave of absence, worked on the nursebank, to keep up my skills and to stop me from becoming bored.

    recently went bact to uni to redo the semester i had failed, missed all my friends as they are now into their last yr and this new class has a different atmosphere, everyone already has their groups. also they are not that approachable, which i find quite sad

    erin will be fine, just KEEP focused and she will get there xx

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  • As a first year student and about to start my first placement I take on board everything you have said with appreciation. I think you are so brave to look forward and say you will become continue after a break and return into the mad worls that is nursing !!

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  • Erin i think you are a wonderful and determined girl. I have just qualified last week in Wembley as a paeds nurse and i assure you this was a life changing journey. The most important thing in the course is for students to make sure they understand the question of the essay, if you don't understand it then ask the lecturers to explain it in detail ( take notes as they explain)the criteria). Make sure you integrate theory and practice (this is what the literature says and what you see happening in practice). respecting and treating patients as individuals is essential. Erin you've reminded me of the dark and light days of my training. Goodluck in future.

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  • i finished training at the end of august there, i was supposed to finish at the end of february but in my final placement i failed a practical assessment in january and had to take a break till may and then restart the whole 14 week placement all over again, i felt humiliated as well as my intake was due to graduate in june and of course i missed it! it was so disappointing! but as i say ive qualified now and just took up a post in a gynae ward and just awaiting registration and there are still people from my intake who are still trying to find posts!! so it will all work out in the end, u will get there as i did but just took a bit longer than anticipated!! good luck!!

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  • Hey erin. Don't give up. The training is hard but worth it in the end. I had to take time off in the middle because of family illness but went back. However I failed by final essay and had resubmit. Passed it and seven years on am off to New Zealand because I want to.. I have always wanted ot work abroad. Stick at it girl coz it does open doors.

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  • Well done Erin, no experience is wasted, it is not how many times we fail but how many times we pick ourselves back up again and start over and you sound as though you have all the ingredients to make a wonderful, caring, compassionate nurse. Sometimes its the setbacks that make us a better person, with the stamina to run the course and with more understanding towards others. It is no disgrace to fail at something because it takes a lot more courage to carry on and not give up. Wishing you all the best to be the best you can be. There's plenty of room at the top.

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  • ScotNurse

    Gutted for you Erin. Glad you're so determined to return to complete your course.
    If you ask me, the criteria for passing the nursing course has shifted far too far away from from students' clinical skills and nursing qualities. The pressure on the essays is ridiculous, with placement success being very much deemed secondary. I know you feel the same, having read your previous blog about the ill-fated 3000 word essay. Well done for having the courage to tell it like it is.The fact your enthusiasm hasn't been well and truely drained by this experience speaks volumes for your character. Good luck for your resumption in May.

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  • Hi Erin,
    I ejoyed reading your blog, I think many students will identify with your experience and take comfort from your determnation to succeed. I agree with much of what you say but just on the point of involving the university, if you are having problems on placement I would like to add a note of caution. I agree that ward staff and mentors value the opportunity to resolve issues themselves before the university is involved. However many students wait too long, don't ask for help and situations that could have been resolved with a little outside help can become worse. So try yourself first, but if things don't change as a result then get on that phone or e-mail to the uni. We can help!

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  • Hi, i will take your advice on board, as i am going on my first ever placement soon and was very nervous, reading your blog was very much helpful.

    thank you, and good luck in the future

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  • Thank you Erin for this advice. I am in my second year as a student nurse and every bit of those ten tips are so important. You have put them across so perfectly.

    Wishing you all the best and YOU WILL qualify and going by the tips you have given, you will make a very good nurse. Thank you once again.

    Best wishes,

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