In my host trust, student nurses are fortunate enough to receive regular placement support meetings to share our placement experiences and to have some informal group supervision.
It is just informal though, and one meeting per placement is not adequate – nor intended – to meet our clinical supervision needs.
At these meetings, and on social media, I regularly hear student nurses saying that they do not get enough clinical supervision on placement.
Many of my placement settings have offered regular reflective practice sessions, and students are frequently invited to attend. The choice is usually between attending these or engaging in a learning activity, such as a medication round or falls assessment, which are valuable for learning and useful to evidence competence.
On the shortest placements, it can feel like a race to the finish line to tick off every competence, and things that don’t meet the criteria, such as reflective practice sessions, fail to take priority.
I understand this attitude, and have certainly been guilty of it myself. By behaving in this way, we are failing to recognise a greater competence: our responsibility for our own wellbeing.
It is outlined in the Code, that we must “maintain the level of health you need to carry out your professional role”. It might not be in your PAD or OAR document, but as soon as you qualify, it is a competence you must exemplify.
Especially in mental health nursing, many students opt for this route because of their own lived experience of mental health issues. With this comes the ability to detect relapse indicators and to use coping strategies that have worked in the past. However, it often also comes with a greater need to prioritise our wellbeing. And I should know.
In my second year, I experienced an ongoing issue in my personal life that knocked my confidence and was working with a patient who deeply troubled me. I came to mental health nursing prepared to be triggered by people whose experiences mirrored my own, but this wasn’t the case here.
I still don’t know why this patient’s story got under my skin in the way that it did, but I struggled to go into placement and had trouble sleeping at night. The regular placement support meeting wouldn’t happen for another few weeks, but I needed support immediately.
On a day off, I visited the mental health nursing faculty office and pounced on the first lecturer I saw. I gave him a brief outline of what was happening, and he asked if I felt I’d benefit from changing my placement. I said that what would probably help more would be some supervision sessions.
“Just as we are responsible for submitting our assignments on time, we are responsible for our own wellbeing”
For about six weeks after that, I met with the lecturer for an hour a week to discuss this patient, how it made me feel and how I was coping. The changes were almost imperceptible, but I was sleeping again and working well with this patient.
Just as we are responsible for submitting our assignments on time, we are responsible for our own wellbeing. Demand supervision from mentors or faculty. Being a student does not exempt you from needing reflective practice sessions and, if they aren’t offered to students, be proactive.
Find out what your union offers. Perhaps you can attend Schwartz rounds through your host trust or university. Maybe you can set up support sessions through your nursing society.
I’m keen to see what support materialises from Matt Hancock’s recent pledge on staff wellbeing.
You might not be graded on it, but your grades are irrelevant if you cannot complete your training. It is challenging, but don’t wait until someone offers. Demand supervision. It could save your health, your career, or even your life. I should know.