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Preparation is everything

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Nurse mentor, Nicola, lets us in on her top tips for student nurses on starting a new placement

As a student mentor, I support students in the community and when they visit our research team and am well aware of how anxiety-provoking being a student nurse can be. I still clearly remember getting ready for my own first placement. It was a time of significant anxiety, however much I’d tried to prepare I still felt I was entering unknown territory. Understanding the worries new students face means I appreciate what a daunting experience starting placement can be.

However, a little preparation can alleviate these anxieties and ensure you get the most out of your time on placement.

Background reading

Finding out about the subject before starting your placement demonstrates to your mentor that you are enthusiastic and keen to learn. Have a read of books and journals relevant to the specialty you’ll be working in. If the organisation has a website, glance over the relevant sections, paying particular attention to any recent news. Patient leaflets and can also be a valuable source of information.

Don’t try and learn everything though, or you’ll feel overwhelmed before you’ve even started!

First impressions

It’s always a good idea to identify and make contact with your mentor at the earliest opportunity. It may be possible to visit the placement before you start to get a feel for what it will be like and learn how to get there, but if this isn’t practical, telephone and introduce yourself. Ask about practicalities such as shift patterns and dress code, and check if your mentor is scheduled to work with you on your first day. If your mentor is not available, ask who you will be working with, and try to make contact with them before beginning the placement.

It sounds obvious, but make sure you are on time for your shifts and are well turned out – first impressions count! If you have previous experience in care, that’s great, but be aware that making the transition to registered nurse requires a whole new skill set, so be prepared to learn. And don’t worry if you have little experience; make this clear from the outset so your mentor can plan how best to guide you.

Learning outcomes

Once you’ve started, waste no time in planning your learning outcomes. You may feel unsure how to go about this, so speak to your mentor and ask for their input. As an adult learner, your mentor will expect you to take responsibility for the overall planning of your placement and to use your initiative to achieve the outcomes you want. They can assist you by facilitating learning opportunities, such as spending time with other members of the team or visiting other clinical areas. Make sure you set a date for your mid-point review as soon as possible. It’s never too early, and your mentor will appreciate having time to plan.


Don’t forget that your mentor is probably just as anxious about meeting you as you are about meeting them, so a little preparation shows you are keen, and will get you off to a good start. I guarantee the time will whizz by and before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to your next placement and showing the next cohort of student nurses around!


Nicola Fulstow is clinical research nurse at Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases NHS Foundation Trust

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