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'My unfriendly placement is making me reconsider becoming a nurse'


Can you advise this student nurse?

“I’m a first year mental health nursing student on my first year placement and I am having quite a hard time.

“I don’t want to seem like I am being a baby or over sensitive, but the nurses on my placement aren’t very nice. I have been made to feel pretty unwelcome from day one, told that I would just have to “get on with it” and “find my own learning opportunities” and when I walk into the office I’m not even acknowledged a lot of the time.

“This attitude doesn’t just apply to me, but to patients.

“I’m on an acute admissions ward where people are obviously rather unwell. Day in day out, I witness patients stood knocking at the nurses office, where the nurses are glued to their computers, only to be completely and utterly ignored.

“I don’t mean to be disrespectful and I know paperwork is a massive thing at the moment, but there seems to a massive lack of compassion and respect for patients.

“It’s really making me reconsider whether I want to be a nurse or not. I don’t want to spend my time chained to a computer, I want to be with patients and build relationships.

“I always thought to be a nurse, you had to be a caring person, but I’m just not witnessing this at the moment and I can see why people have awful experiences with the NHS. Have any other students had terrible placements?”

- Victoria, 1st year


Please use the comments section below to share your advice

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Readers' comments (11)

  • Hi Victoria

    Sorry to hear that you are experiencing this . I too had a similar problem at one of my placements.

    Luckily I was only there for a week but it was the longest week of my course so far !

    My advice would be to firstly speak to your university .They are there to support you and have to respond to your concerns.

    Secondly , however hard it is for you right now I would take this experience and turn it into a positive . What you are seeing is a minority and not all nurses are like this . You have worked hard to get to this point so please do not allow these people to take that away from you .

    Reflect on your experience and know that you will never become like these nurses or act towards others ;as they have to you.

    Keep being the compassionate nurse that you are and you will look back on this as a positive learning curve (Maybe not yet but you will )

    Good luck and please keep going

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  • Hi Victoria

    I can really empathise with your situation as I have been there too. I am a 2nd year mental health nurse and have not had a placement yet that I have loved. In every placement there have been staff who are rude, unfriendly, unhelpful, sarcastic and some just downright obnoxious! I have found the NHS to be a very strange place to work and almost archaic in some of the attitudes of staff.

    Obviously, there have been some nice and supportive nurses too, but more often than not, like you, I have been ignored, left to just 'get on with it' and made to feel stupid when I don't know things, rather than my mentor teaching me things which surely is what I am supposed to be there for - to learn.

    I'm afraid I don't have any answers for you. I have had 3 placements now and am still feeling like I'm not sure I want to be a mental health nurse. Really what I want is to work in the community but all my placements so far have been ward based.

    Speak to your tutor at Uni and try not to take things personally. Don't give up, hopefully your future experiences will be more positive. It is so hard I know. Good luck.

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  • Had a similar experience myself in my mental health placement, which was a long time ago
    I've gone on to have a great nursing career and still love nursing after more than 20 yrs
    please don't let them win Your placement is only that ,a few weeks out of your life
    the next one will be better

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  • Hi Victoria,

    I'm a 2nd year Adult Nurse, and having spoken to quite a few people on my course the chances are we each get one placement that is particularly difficult or unfriendly. I too had this, so I can completely understand where you're coming from.

    It was my last placement of first year, and I was put into a highly specialised area. It was quite an intimidating environment to be in, they were very much in the "you have to earn respect to gain it" camp. I worked hard to build relationships, and arranged outreach opportunities to develop my skills. All I will say is ensure that you don't let this affect your enthusiasm (easier said than done, I know!) and do whatever you personally can to positively affect those in your care.

    I have heard some stories of students not receiving much feedback, and cruising through the placement right to the end and their mentor says they haven't been very accountable for their own learning; try and arrange as many opportunities to meet your skills requirements as you can.

    It's unfortunate that you have been placed here; every workplace has its own politics and it can be difficult to fit-in. I have experienced this, and when trying to break the ice it has fed back to me that "sometimes it's better to stay silent than to speak" - this applies to a casual lunch break whereby all staff were chatting.

    Seemingly in some areas, students are excluded from this "speak when spoken to". It's sad that some mentors are still quite behind the times! Just keep your head down and try and make it through, be conscious of your employees and be thorough with your tasks. In the end, they will see you as an enthusiastic, meticulous and self-motivated individual.

    Regarding the patient care, I would advise you speak to your link lecturer - also if you find that the relationship with your mentor isn't great and need a plan of action to go forward. As students it can be very difficult to "corner" a mentor to fill in your book & identify opportunities, and the university will understand this. Good luck!

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  • Hi Victoria,

    I have spent over ten years working in acute mental health in Sydney, all within the government health system. What you describe is not unique to where you are. Indeed, I have experienced the same scenario both as a student and as a qualified nurse. The situation is also not unique to mental health as I am now working in the medical field and have experienced and often witnessed the same thing.

    I guess what I want to say is that we need people like you to stay within the field. We need new eyes and empathy within nursing.

    Please don't ever forget this awful experience - you can use it in a positive way by remembering exactly how it felt and ensuring you never treat anyone the way you are being treated right now. Similarly, use the poor behaviour of these nurses as a benchmark for how not to behave toward patients.

    It is true that sometimes new mental health nurses can be a little inexperienced and naive, but it's also true that a high percentage of nurses, be they mental health or medical, experience burn out and fatigue. In my experience, this is often evidenced by the behaviours you describe from some nurses.

    When I was a student I read about these behaviours and wrote a paper on them. It helped. One theory I liked was that this unfriendly behaviour is the result of people modelling themselves on their only avialable role models, their seniors who behave in this way. When they themselves become seniors, they can only fullfil the role by living their idea of what a senior is: their only role model, the nasty senior. Hence the behaviour is perpetuated and spreads through nursing like an unwanted virus.

    If you break the chain, you may actually give people something else to aspire to in the future. This takes tact and self restraint as in my experience, such people resent new thinking and new ideas. Small subtle steps like the inner resolve to never forget how you feel as the subject of such behaviours and to not repeat the behaviour is an excellent, silent start. Finding a mentor external to the service who feels the same as you is another. A psychologist can be helpful in assisting you to debrief really effectively and to examine your own response to these situations. Use it all as a means of personal growth and start now to build the support system you will need into the future.

    You will find this behaviour throughout nursing and just about anywhere else you work. It's human behaviour in all it's inglorious hues. lease don't throw away nursing because we really do need people like you who feel and can make a big difference.

    Hang in there.

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  • Victoria if this is what you want to do with your life I think you just need to get your head down and get through it in whatever way you can. Be yourself, ask for what you need, smile sweetly between gritted teeth if necessary because once qualified you will have your own voice and can better make a difference. I qualified as a mental health nurse many years ago and the qualification opened doors for me in residential care and now the social work arena. You can use it in other areas of social care either in establishments or the community. Sadly you will find this in any area of work you go into in life simply because you are dealing with people. I'm not saying it's right just that it happens. But you are a potential positive role model of the future so don't let anyone curb your enthusiasm or caring attitude. Good luck.

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  • Victoria, this sounds very much like my first MH placement in first year...and looking back on it I recognise it was something of a baptism of fire. My second one (also in an MH, but in a far more 'settled' environment) made me realise how well I'd done to cope on the previous one, and how very different things can be. I expect that some placements in future will be more like the 'bad' one, but as others here have covered very well and fully, this will teach you much about the kind of nurse you want to be and the kind of culture you will be pivotal in maintaining in your team, post-qualification. To have the very nature of MH service delivery and the core values in nursing raised in such stark light so early on in your training may not be ideal - but it will be an ongoing process. Just don't let this put you off: within a week or so of my second placement, I felt like a valued and (mostly adequately!) competent part of the ward team - a very different experience, and one where I really found my love of this work flourish and grow.

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  • Hi Victoria
    If they want high quality, professioanl nurses they have yo positively invest time and effort in supporting students. Have you submitted a placement evaluation and shared your concerns with your Personal Tutor? I can be fairly sure that Senior Nurse Managers will also have concerns about this ward and will suuport you. The CQC is very interested in student evaluations and their concerns about care standards.

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  • I am Victoria the student nurse who sent the original email. I wish to say thank you to everyone who offered me advice and support, it really did help me. I have 5 weeks left now and I have decided just to get my head down and get through it and use it as a bit of a learning curve. A sort of, "well this is the sort of nurse I don't want to be" lesson. It is sad, but I feel unable to address the issues I have now through the appropriate channels as I don't want to be "the awful bloody student who reported us all". However, I am listing everything down as it happens and I will be completely, utterly and brutally honest on my evaluation. I have spent the last week doing a spoke placement and it has restored my faith that there are truly wonderful caring people within the NHS. I have been supported and encouraged and treated as important and valued the entire time. I am committed to doing whatever I can to improve the situation for students experiencing bad placements, even if it is as little as being supportive towards them when I qualify.

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  • I really hope you haven't let this experience impact on your choice of becoming a nurse. I am a final year student and I can tell you I have had very similar experiences on placements. The cold shoulder, indifference, obvious dislike for no reason. There as been times that patients, and their family member have been treated with complete lack of empathy and disrespect, that I wonder why the nurses involved choose nursing. You will find many mentors are in the profession for reasons other than genuine care and empathy. Don't let it affect your learning please. All mentors are not the same nor, healthcare workers. I think it is best for you to prepare before all placements, have a plan in regards to what you want to learn and how you plan to go about it. If the people are difficult, uninterested etc be the difference, treat people how you know they should be treated with respect and compassion. Apply the skills you are taught at university to your practice placements. If it becomes almost unbearable follow the correct procedure as outlined by your academic institution. Best of wishes and keep you head up because your the future of nursing hun.

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