Successfully studying to be a nurse is no mean feat. Ann Shuttleworth looks at the small steps you can take to progress in leaps and bounds
Studying to become a nurse isn’t quite like being a typical university student - you’ll be blessed with longer hours, shorter holidays and placements.
“One big problem is that most student nurses work part time and, with the huge number of study and clinical hours they have to complete, they get very little free time,” says Karen Elcock, director of practice and work based learning at Thames Valley University in London.
“Timing can be difficult - they often get assignments as they go onto placements, so they are away from university facilities, other students and the academic arena.”
Many student nurses also have dependants so, as Gail Mooney, director of postgraduate studies at Swansea University, points out: “It’s vital to look at what help you will need and to get a support network set up before you start.”
No matter what your situation, you won’t be able to get away from the fact that planning is crucial. Hywel Davies, a former student at Swansea University, says: “You have to be organised, particularly if you have family commitments, so you need to prioritise your work and plan your schedule carefully.”
While universities can offer support, Ms Elcock stresses that students must be ready to ask for help. “It’s important to access support as soon as possible rather than go through the pain of struggling through an assignment and failing it unnecessarily,” she says.
Ms Mooney says that students can help themselves. “Reading is vital - and I don’t mean just what you need to complete assignments,” she says. “Students should read more widely than that. It doesn’t just increase your knowledge - it also gives you a chance to see how to write, how other people do it, and how to deal with references.”
But a nursing course is about more than pure study. In placements, students develop clinical skills - and they can be a daunting prospect, as Amanda Morgan, a former student at the University of Wolverhampton, points out.
“It can be hard to fit into an established team,” she says. “You’re only there for seven weeks.”
Students can do a lot to make placements successful by the way they communicate and try to integrate, says Sharon Arkell, senior lecturer in adult nursing at the University of Wolverhampton.
“The way they communicate with HCAs can make a real difference - they mustn’t appear to be telling them what to do - they can learn a lot from HCAs,” she says.
Even when they work well with the team, students can find it difficult to meet their learning outcomes.
“Workload pressures mean wards are often very set on routines and care becomes very task based,” says Penny Tremayne, senior lecturer at De Montfort University. “I encourage my students to ask for a caseload of patients - and to go against routine if they think it’s justified.
“For example, one of my students spent time doing a jigsaw with a patient who had had a stroke. The staff on the ward saw her as lazy, but the time was very well spent as she learnt a lot of useful and pertinent information about the patient.”
The key to getting through both academic work and placements is to take responsibility for your own learning. Understand your needs and don’t be afraid to ask for help or to be given an opportunity to do something. As Karen Elcock says: “If you get these things right, college needn’t be painful - it can be a lot of fun.”
Making the most of your time at college
- Take advantage of study skills support if you need to access it
- Plan your time for a whole term as soon as possible
- Don’t treat study days as free time
- See your personal tutor as you work through assignments, rather than waiting until they are finished
- Let your personal tutor know immediately if you have any academic or personal problems
- Develop your IT skills
- Set up a support network with your fellow students
- Leave yourself time for some enjoyment