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'Experience is the teacher of all things - so pack an extra cheese sandwich'

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In January I started my first placement; it was the first time I had even set foot on a ward

Although initially anxious when I began, as I started to learn the daily routine and get to know the healthcare team I grew in confidence and began to identify tricks of the trade that you wouldn’t be taught in any university lecture.

So here is my list of top tips for student nurses soon to begin their first placement:

1. Always pull a wheelchair backwards. Wheelchairs in hospital are - in the main - old and creaky. Certainly even the best of the wheelchairs’ mobility resemble that of a Tesco trolley with a wonky wheel. Transporting patients in reverse may appear inane but all nurses will testify that it is the most efficient method for steering.

2. When admitting patients always check and double-check a patient’s allergies. Although it may seem irrelevant to record that a patient is allergic to egg, often medication is comprised of day-to-day ingredients in contrast to highly technical chemicals. Indeed, on my first day of placement I witnessed a woman have a cardiac arrest after the doctor prescribed her penicillin. Unbeknown to the doctor (as well as the patient in fact) the patient was allergic to penicillin and as a result had an anaphylactic reaction.

3. When assessing pressure sores focus on the joints which are in contact with the bed that bear the body weight. Establish a mental checklist for yourself on the anatomical sites to inspect - heels, elbows, shoulders, the back of the neck, the head and the bottom.

4. Introduce yourself and ensure that people know your name. I have a relatively rare name which as a result many people struggled to pronounce. Nursing is one of the most sociable careers you can have where you engage with multiple professionals, patients and relatives throughout the day. A relationship can immediately be constructed by simply being on a first-name basis. Similarly, all of the nurses I encountered went out of their way to include me in patients’ treatments and and teach me clinical nursing skills.

5. Seize every opportunity to witness nursing in different environments. During my placement I undertook several insight visits and actually returned after my placement to go on a community clinic with one of the staff nurses. On my second day of placement I was informed that I could stand in the operating theatre whilst the surgeon performed a Surgical Termination of Pregnancy (STOP). Although personally I oppose the practice, I am grateful that I did take the opportunity to see this aspect of healthcare. In addition, during the procedure the surgeon was keen to teach me about the procedure and anatomy of the body. I urge all student nurses to answer every question with a resounding “yes”; as Julius Caesar said “Experience is the teacher of all things”.

6. Come prepared for a shift with a good lunch, which in my case meant packing an extra cheese sandwich. The majority of shifts are 13 hours (with an hour long break included) and it is has been found that on a 12-hour shift a nurse walks on average 8km. Therefore be ready to work physically hard by packing enough food and water to keep you alert.

Genevieve Elliott is a current student nurse

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