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'Take charge of your own education when seeking learning opportunities'

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The years spent training to be a nurse will be challenging, rewarding and a brilliant learning opportunity. At first, you may feel overwhelmed as if you know nothing, but at the end of the three (or two) years, you will be responsible for caring for people when they are at their most vulnerable. 

While support is available from university, peers and mentors, it is your responsibility to ensure that you have the knowledge and skills needed to pass your final placement. This can be extremely daunting but making the most of the opportunities available to you is essential to make sure you become a competent and confident nurse.

“Choosing something you will enjoy and learn a lot from is the most important thing”

Personally, one of the most valuable experiences I had was my elective placement. If you are fortunate enough to have an elective placement, or any say in where you are placed, I urge you to think carefully about your decision. Wherever you choose (or are told) to go will undoubtedly unlock fantastic learning opportunities.

If you have a particular area of interest or a specific opportunity particularly appeals to you, then go for it. At the end of the day, choosing something you will enjoy and learn a lot from is the most important thing.

For my elective placement I chose to spend a week volunteering for the charity Sense, where we took a group of young people with various multi-sensory impairments on a short break. This experience was so much fun, and I learned so much about the day-to-day lives of these amazing young people. I was also able to reflect on the role of nurses in the lives of people with different multi-sensory impairments, which enabled me to feel more confident and aware on clinical placement.

Many of my colleagues chose similar placements while others chose to go abroad to experience nursing in other countries. The variety of opportunities available meant that everyone was able to choose exciting and invaluable placements to suit their learning needs.

As much as learning is important, choosing a fun and interesting placement is also important as the chance to do something like this another time may not arise.

Learning opportunities are ongoing upon qualification; however, as a registered nurse you will not get as many chances to embrace experiences that are available to you as a student.

Being supernumerary means that opportunities to follow patients to theatre or spend a day on a different unit may be available to you (depending on your hospital trust). Some mentors are fantastic at organising and encouraging these learning opportunities, but others are not.

It is definitely worth discussing the potential opportunities with your mentor and asking to go to theatre, for example if you know a patient is going when you’re on shift. Just remember to confirm this with the relevant people however, as not every patient and member of staff will be comfortable having a student present for specific procedures. Don’t lose hope though, many people are very welcoming of student nurses!

Academic work is also a large part of most nursing degrees. Support does vary between universities, so it is important to know what services are available to you. Many university libraries offer academic support classes for people studying a whole variety of subjects. If you are struggling with your writing style or formatting assignments, it is likely that workshops will be running that you can attend. 

Alternatively, there may be one-on-one support classes available within your school of nursing or in the library. These appointments can be extremely useful especially when writing your dissertation and need the input of a librarian or experienced researcher. University education is very focused on independent learning and it’s unlikely that this support will simply be handed to you – so make it a priority to enquire about different kinds of support as and when you need it.

Overall, to get the most out of your training, you need to take charge of your own education and be proactive when seeking learning opportunities.

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