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'Hot water and leaves: the key to a good placement experience?'

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I am making a cup of green tea before I sit down to write my monthly blog.

I was reflecting on my experience of the last two years and thinking what is the single most defining feature or tip I could give to my peers who are soon to be heading out to placement for the first time. And it is this: tea.

In the UK, a cup of tea is a national institution, an art and a science, just like mental health nursing. When I make a cup of tea for a patient, family member, carer or friend it is a chance to give that person some of your time, to actively listen and ensure they do not feel that they are being rushed. It can be a chance to initiate and form therapeutic relationships. Further, a cup of tea can carve out time for reflection on our practice.

I am coming to the end of year two of my nurse training and finishing a specialist placement I requested within a mental health team placed within a psychiatric liasion service of a general hospital. As part of this placement I have had a wealth of opportunities to visit other sites to acquire skills not only in mental but physical health too, and be a fly on the wall in seeing what practicing adult nurses do. 

I had a shift shadowing A&E, which I feel every student nurse in all branches should get to do. I have visited memory assessment clinics, home treatment teams, female acute wards and general hospital maternity services and I am thankful for each and every one of these opportunities.

My passion for mental health as a specialism has only grown as I have enjoyed the variety of presentations seen in psychiatric liaison service; learning about depression, delirium and dementia as well as substance misuse and anxiety has really tested me for the better and challenged what I have learnt so far. My mentor has been Jodie Kirby, who won Student Nursing Times Student of the year 2013. I am thankful that she has given me the chance to obtain learning experiences that will really benefit my future career.

Jodie tells me I need to make time for a cup of tea, to take time out occasionally so that I don’t burn out. The problem is I don’t drink caffeine. However, I have settled on making myself green and herbal teas so I don’t miss out on the experience. When I started my training I recall thinking ‘but I don’t drink tea, why should I make it?’ However, it’s not about whether I want one but supporting the team you work in. When a colleague is having a difficult shift, making them a cup of tea shows that you have compassion and care for them.

I have really started to feel like I am becoming more comfortable with the tasks at hand although I still have issues with confidence in my ability and a fear of failing which stems from past working experiences that caused me anxiety. I am also experiencing great tiredness after a personally very tiring year.

In my first year I really struggled with observing the general atmosphere. My main learning style is kinaesthetic and I like to get in there and do things in order to grow in confidence. I like to be chucked in the deep end and feel a great sense of accomplishment when I achieve. Although I have enjoyed my training I am still counting down the months to the end of it, mostly for financial reasons and because I am looking forward to working consistently in one place. I find it frustrating on behalf of friends and family when I cannot make plans even a week in advance. As a person who likes routine and structure I have found this the hardest aspect, but it will serve to make me stronger and more resilient in the end.  

Still, there is one new routine I have managed to adopt and now recognise as one of the keys to a good placement experience. Hot water and leaves may seem a small consideration but if there is one tip I can give to improve a placement experience it is to make a cup of tea - you will be amazed at what such a simple gesture can achieve.

Becky Kidman is Student Nursing Times’ mental health branch editor

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