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My placement from hell … and back


My worst placement encompassed all the things everyone complains about. Unwelcoming staff, no learning opportunities, feeling constantly lost, nomentor, sly comments… The list goes on.

You really can learn lessons from every placement, even if it is what not to do. My worst placement got off to a bad start from the second I walked in.

I can see how I looked to the staff that day - 19 years old, uncomfortable in my never-before-worn nursing uniform, painfully shy and a little out of breath from running around the hospital for the past half hour trying to find the ward. (Lesson 1: Always find out where your placement is before you’re meant to be there…)

The ward sister was one of those people who seemed only vaguely aware that other people existed. She saw me, acknowledged I was another student and began talking.

And then she continued to talk. She didn’t let me add anything, ask questions, nothing.

I eventually managed to ask her about my mentor – a question drilled in to us in Uni the week before – and then she stopped talking. Put her hands on her hips and sighed.

“Well. We didn’t know you were coming so I don’t know what you expect us to do about that.”

I had rung ahead. I swear.  I’d rung and asked the usual questions about uniform and told them when I was starting. But clearly this was not an argument I was going to win.

She showed me around, or rather showed me to the staff room and the tea-making facilities and went off for a gossip. I had a sneaky feeling I was to be the subject of that gossip. (Lesson 2: try not to take things personally, they’re probably not about you specifically but the culture of the workplace.)

So I decided the best thing to do was to throw myself in.

Ask for things to do – that’s what everyone advises right? And who wouldn’t want a student offering to help? Well, the majority of the staff employed by this particular unit, as it turns out.

“Why don’t you organise some spokes?” Was a frequent response. A spoke, for those who trained with a different trust, is spending a day on another ward or unit to further broaden your experience. A fantastic way of getting more out of your placement, but not traditionally used as an alternative to your placement. (Lesson 3: If there’s something you want to try and can’t, find somewhere you can)

“You just watch”, was another line I heard a lot of. And yes, watching is useful. It’s just that, when you’re watching a wound being packed for the 20th time, you start to wonder if perhaps you could be doing something more beneficial.

Asking wasn’t helping, so I let people come to me if they wanted me to do or watch anything. Initially this went down well and they almost seemed to warm to the presence of a non-mithersome student.

But it wasn’t a long-term solution. I remember coming in one day and sitting in the staff room listening intently to the handover. Then everyone left to go and get on with whatever they were getting on with – packing wounds I expect – and I waited for someone to suggest I watched. But no-one did.

I spent the next hour reading a book about penguins.

What I could have done differently …

It wasn’t all bad, honestly. I took the spoke advice on board and spent at least 50% of my time on a different ward where I learnt about nursing rather than the migration habits of emperor penguins.

What I should have done, clearly, was speak to my tutors (Lesson 4: Talk to someone!). But it’s very difficult to know whether you’re the one being unreasonable when you’re new to a situation. But you shouldn’t feel like that on placement. The nurses you’re meant to be looking up to should not be embarrassing you by suggesting your bag charm is a sex toy.

Don’t put up with it. If any of this sounds familiar, ring your university and get yourself moved somewhere else.

It will be worth it.


Readers' comments (20)

  • Definitley the best course of action is to let the university know as soon as possible as to what is going on. Don't take on the responsibility of trying to sort it out yourself - chances are it will only make things worse.

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  • I have had two placements from hell so far and one of those I am currently completing! My first was in a ward with more staff than patients due to scaling down of their services. My allocated mentor was on two weeks holidays bang in the middle of my placement and no one wanted the responsibility of a student. I was excluded from pretty much everything except ' do the obs' whilst they stood around chatting. I was constantly on duty with a nurse that seemed to hate students! To top it all I came down with a viral infection that left me on antibotics, running a temp and feeling miserable but the thought of being sick and owing the placement hours was too much so I struggled on to complete it. I have hence found out through talking to other students that had this same placement that my woes were theirs as well. My current placement is a busy rehab ward but my mentor could not be bothered she ignores me and when I corner her for assessment work I need completed its such a bother. I have been treated like an extra auxiliary on the ward. I'm a second year student and I know how to wash someone I have learning outcomes to achieve and a disinterested mentor. I have been left on my own in sections for long periods - where are the staff?? -on a tea break leaving me to cover. I don't know the patients nor the relatives and people are coming up to me asking me about mrs x. The sister is relatively new to the ward and is lovely very student friendly and helpful. Why don't I speak to her - well I have learned politics on a ward can be tricky so sometimes its better to just get on with it. Also as far as talking to your tutor is concerned well this has the same effect as those politics I mentioned. Your tutor just speaks to the sister. I have worked on wards were the student has complained and heard the comments and seen the atmosphere from the staff viewpoint and its not worth it. Sometimes you have to just go out there and grab your own learning opportunities because believe me no one takes you by the hand. Thankfully not all placements and mentors and staff are like that I have had some lovely experiences. But unfortunately it just takes one to knock your confidence.

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  • I was on my first placement. It was a placement from hell. My mentor avoided me all of the time. I learnt more through researching nursing books. My mentor called my PEF in through me making little mistakes. None of the jobs was explained to me by my mentor. I failed my placement through being accused of a patient scoring on their observations. This was then when I just wanted to leave this placement. However I completed my first placement, because if I did not complete my placement I would have had to return and complete my hours. I am glad that I did complete my hours because I would not have liked the thought of returning back to that placement. The majority of the nurses was just a load of back stabbers and made me feel very intimidated. This placement was just a living nightmare. I am now just leaving this experience behind me and hoping that my next placement is not going to be anything like that experience. The training was just appalling.

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  • I am currently on a placement in a critical care unit in England and have found one staff nurse attitude towards me as a student nurse really poor -they have told me they dont like students and they appear to go out of their way to ignore, shout and put me down in front of other members of staff- have tried ignoring them but remaining polite however cannot ignore them now and they are affecting my confidence: had a panic attack today and had to leave work - have spoken to uni but apparently it is my issue - hard one to overcome

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  • I have just completed my first placement and my experience was not too different. My mentor avoided me for most the time and she was annoyed when my PEF visited the ward to remind her to mentor me. The majority of the auxiliaries and the nurses were bitchy and unhelpful. I was just treated as another auxiliary and wasn't given a chance to do much nursing. I'm glad it's over!

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  • my heart goes out to you and all who have had negative experiences. it should not be that way and there are no excuses.

    talking to your uni is probably the best course of action and hopefully, if they are worth their salt, they can provide the support you need

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  • I had a placement from hell, i used to drive 20 miles each way in the freezing cold on a moped to be belittled and mocked. At the time my son was 7 months old and they would have me doing back to back long days, i never saw my son. The placement itself ran me down, i loved the patients and even some of the nurses. In the end i ended up with shingles possibly due to stress. i carried out the placement to best of my ability and walked out on my last day. Due to the stress of that placement, i stepped back 6 months, moved university and my lost my home and my husband. However i dug in my heels and have recently just become registered. It is worth it bit the bullet. To any awkward mentors remember you were a student once

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  • I am currently on a first placement that sounds very familiar and am racking my brains on how to get better learning outcomes and plans. I hate to give up on anything but am feeling very bewildered. My university know and they are keeping a close eye on me and I have a 1-1 with my mentor soon of which I will be tactful in explaining my concerns solely to do with my learning outcomes... the nastiness from others I can cope with, but I don't want to waste my time when I can be learning, neither do I want to lose my passion to achieve a first and be the best nurse I can be.
    It is nice to know that I am not alone though!

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  • I am on my placement. Could not be more different. Each day after hand over my mentor says this to:

    "What do you want to learn from your book today"

    I am dreading getting a placement from hell.

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  • I'm a mature student currently on a placement where the staff are very cliquey, backbite and gossip about one another and, it seems, the students too if their faces do not fit. Already so far, I have experienced bullying off the sister in charge of the unit because I simply expressed my discomfort with a task I was being left to complete unsupervised, which should not have been. I came into nursing from teaching and have to say I've been shocked by the unprofessionalism I have seen pervading a lot of wards and nursing teams I have come into contact with in regards to the way nurses treat each other - and even how they talk about patients sometimes (I also work for various nursing agencies and have worked in hospitals across the UK). There are some absolutely brilliant nurses and teams out there but unfortunately they seem to be in fewer supply than the not so positive ones I've described above. I may be wrong in my conclusions so far. But that is my experience. I feel sad knowing that a lot of nurses have to do an oftentimes difficult job under pressures from the public, media and managers but also face a daily struggle trying to get along with staff members who do not seem to care or think about how simple uncaring words and attitudes within team dynamics can affect patient care. And erode away at the enthusiasm and life force of colleagues. We have a highly responsible and important job in looking after unwell, vulnerable people left in our care. A job that requires emotional and physical strength. Why are some of us fighting as nurses to just survive the workplace and reach the end of the working day? If you are a staff nurse negatively impacting your workplace or are a student nurse that gossips and backbites and may carry that into your career, I'm asking you for the sake of patients, the profession and your integrity - please stop and think about your actions. And even non actions - in doing nothing and going along with it when this behaviour needs to be challenged.

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