Congratulations, you’ve done it! You’re going to be a nurse!
The next three years (four if you’re studying in Ireland) will be both the most challenging and the most rewarding of your life. And although first year may seem daunting right now, it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tips on how to get the most from this year, both in college and on placement.
1. Run for class rep. in your students’ union: This is a fantastic way to meet people, both from your year and course and people from other courses. Make sure you go around to everyone in your class and introduce yourself so that they know and recognise your face when it’s time to vote.
2. Study hard, but don’t forget to have some fun: Nursing is a difficult course and you will need to set aside time to study. But it’s also important to do activities you enjoy and that take your mind off working, whether this is going for a jog, having a coffee with friends or going on a night out. It’s important to have a work life balance. As the saying goes “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
3. Ask Questions!: This is really important. If you don’t understand something how else are you going to figure it out? The lecturer or preceptor will respect you for it and you can be sure that 20 other people in the lecture hall have the same question.
4. Start assignments early and have your referencing guidelines close by: Personally, I find starting an assignments two weeks before it’s due in works well for me. This gives me a week to research the topic and a week to write and re-write the assignment before handing it in. Having your referencing guidelines close by ensures that you will not lose unnecessary marks for referencing mistakes.
5. Take your scope of practice (or practice document) with you to placement: You would be surprised how many preceptors (or mentors) don’t know what you’re able to do each year. It’s important that you tell your preceptor politely when they ask you to do something outside your scope of practice. However, even if you’re not allowed do a procedure yourself, this doesn’t mean you can’t learn from watching it being carried out.
6. Introduce yourself to the ward staff on your first morning: Many nursing students forget to introduce themselves and inform staff what year of training they’re in when they arrive on the ward. A ward manager once highlighted to me that this helped you become part of the ward team faster and that introducing your year helps them to determine what your skill range is likely to be.
7. Don’t be afraid to get stuck in: As the years pass you will be expected to do things using your own initiative so you’re might as well start early. Start with little important things like attending to a patient’s personal care or doing the observations.
8. Use every opportunity to learn: The ward is a big place with many different things happening at once. If you are assigned a nurse in one subward but there is an interesting procedure happening in another, ask if you can go and watch.
9. Make time for your friends, both nursing and non-nursing: During placement you may find yourself in a little world of your own. But it’s important to keep life as normal as possible, so go to lunch with your friends when you are on duty or on your day off invite friends round for tea or a movie.
10. Try to take criticism well: It is not a personal attack, your mentor is simply trying to steer you in the right direction. Write down the criticism and work really hard on it the next day you’re on the ward. The nurse will see you working hard to improve and will be impressed.
11. It’s alright to cry: Nursing is both physically and mentally demanding at times. It can be devastating when a patient dies or when a relative shouts at you and calls you names. Acknowledge that you need a small break and ask your preceptor or ward manager.
The next few years will be tough, but 100% rewarding. The most important thing is to face every day with a smile and enjoy the experience.
Adam Miller is a 3rd year student nurse studying Adult nursing at Trinity College, Dublin