I am not one of those nursing students who always wanted to be a nurse.
It was sometime last summer that something flicked in my brain and I realised that being a paramedic would be too ‘uninvolved’ for me, that I needed to be part of ongoing care.
So I started researching nursing courses instead and I found a mental health nursing programme, commutable from home and with rave reviews from graduates. My mind was made up and I applied two weeks later, envisioning a future of listening to patients tell me about their troubles and working with them to decide how best to help them recover.
Nothing could have prepared me for my first placement. Any RMN reading this now will probably be smirking at my idealistic view of what being a mental health nurse was going to be like, especially in the community.
I didn’t have it completely wrong: my two weeks with a primary care mental health team did involve a fair amount of observing patient assessments and triage - but there was one thing I hadn’t anticipated.
Paperwork. Piles and piles of paperwork.
I had a go at some of this myself, of course, making notes in assessments and writing them up to be checked by the nurse or social worker who conducted the assessment.
But on the first day, my mentor advised me to bring in exam revision and textbooks so that I could engage myself while I waited for clients. Fortunately there were two to three face-to-face and four telephone screenings each day, and lots of clients were willing to have a student listen in, so I was never short of something to observe for too long - just far more often than this eager first timer would have liked!
My expectations fell short of reality in other ways, too. Listening to clients talk about their difficulties was hard, and switching off after I left the office, not thinking about the terrible situations I’d heard about, was terribly hard.
If you think you’ll find this hard, make sure you have plans for your off-shifts lined up, whether it be meeting friends for coffee or watching a film at home - just do something to get your mind away from placement for a while.
Despite all the waiting around, I really did have a wonderful fortnight on my first placement.
Listening to people’s stories may have tugged at my heart strings from time to time, but it was so interesting, and I can see why people say the first placement divides a nursing cohort: those who stick around, and those who find it’s not for them. Me, I’m not only looking forward to returning to this placement area for a further eight weeks over the summer, but I’m even more enthused than I was before about my future career as an RMN. Bring it on!
Katie Sutton is a first year mental health student nurse studying at the University of Salford.