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'I'm just an extra pair of hands'


Can you advise this student nurse?

I’m on placement on an acute hospital ward (sorry I don’t want to give details) and it is ridiculously short staffed, to the point where I’m pretty much working as a porter or as a HCA if I’m lucky.

“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see fundamental care as below me at all, but there’s only so much I can learn from making beds. Everyone is really friendly and I know they really appreciate me helping, which makes me feel like I can’t point out that this isn’t what I’m meant to be doing.

“I don’t want to be that student who thinks she’s too good to muck in. Then again, I don’t want to be the student who learns nothing from a placement because I’m constantly doing pharmacy runs.

“I actually don’t know how the ward manages without a student as an extra pair of hands!

“Has anyone else been in this situation? Any tips on potential learning opportunities I can take without letting the ward down?”

- Anonymous

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Readers' comments (4)

  • This is a very common problem throughout the NHS as staffing levels are at an all time low. How would they manage on a daily basis without Bank Staff and so on. I was in a position recently as a return to practice student and was told on my first day "we have no auxilliary on, so go and find the other student and get all the beds done". I, like you didn't want to be seen as not wanting to "muck in". Although, I only had 8 weeks to meet an unbelievable amount of achievements. I was already and expert at making beds having worked in theatres for years. I didn't need any more practice.
    This continued on the next ward that I was moved to, I was supposed to work 50% of my time with my mentor, you would have thought that this would have allowed for training. This was not true, being on the same shift and physically working together were two entirely different situations and had ultimately different outcomes. My days consisted of starting at 07:15, getting the report, doing breakfast , getting patients washed/ready, then doing obs and so on. I hardly ever worked with a trained member of staff. They were always busy doing drugs, paperwork or ward rounds. I did not get any relevant training. It was shocking. I felt used and abused. I complained. I was of course an ex-staff nurse so it was easier for me to stand up to them.
    I would advise you to speak to your Advisor of Studies and they could possibly take it up with your mentor if you don't feel happy doing this yourself. The other way to tackle it would be to take your OAR and ask your mentor to go over a plan with you and see what achievements can be met in your time there. This would help focus your mentor to the task of training you.
    Best of luck!

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  • I completely understand your frustration, I think it would be best to speak to your mentor, the learning environment manager and possibly the link lecturer for that specific area. If you are not meeting your outcomes then it would definitely raise issues whether that area is 'student friendly'. You are meant to be supernumerary, you are there as an on looker, not an extra pair of hands. You're there to learn. I understand as I am in the same boat.

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  • Hi I totally agree and felt the same on my first placement. Caring for the patient is most important however you do need to learn new skills and be able to have your skills signed off. I often found that the HCA's were bossy and some rude, It did upset me but I put it behind me and thought of my degree at the end and the fact that I only had to complete nine weeks. Talking to your mentor and asking for a plan is an excellent idea as mention earlier, chin up stay strong and get in touch with the appropriate persons. I found getting myself a buddy helped enormously (another mentor or member of staff) they also helped me learn new skills and working with them, allowing for my skills to be signed off and also acknowledged.

    good luck.

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  • is all this poor destructive behaviour caused by short staffing and the stress of the job? and is it resignation as staff become too overwhelmed by the volume of the work expected of them?

    it should be great motivator to achieve ones objectives of excellence in patient care for every single one of them and to help our students and others on the ward achieve theirs with much joy, pride, job satisfaction and whatever other positive feelings you wish to attribute.

    we are all willing when we join otherwise most of us would probably not be there in the first place. obviously there are some work areas we prefer over others and some where we cannot gel at all.

    Even towards the end of my career where I started a new job in the UK in the private sector, after over 20 years bedside nursing experience and a higher degree, whilst wishing to muck in like the others mention above and provide the best for my patients no matter what task which are all important to the comfort and wellbeing of each individual and offering the best possible support to my colleagues, I was miffed at the lack of respect and recognition of my abilities, apart from it being a waste of a more qualified and thus more costly resource, to only be given menial tasks such as bed making, serving drinks and meals, portering patients to and from theatres most of the day and simply handing them over at each end without any apparent need of any report, being the ward sister's dog's body to fetch and carry for her and the most technical task I was entrusted with was measuring and recording blood pressures!

    As I was on the bank and each ward had made little effort to get to know me and my abilities I found it all very sad and frustrating and for this and other reasons such as having to undergo training in something basic I had practiced regularly for years having passed their theory test I was unable to put it to practice as nobody, which for some reason could only be a ward sister, ever had the time to validate my practice with excuse after excuse.

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