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'The 5 key things I learned on my first placement'


I’ve spent the last ten weeks on an older people’s rehabilitation ward where the patients are quite unwell; they need help to wash, dress, eat and get to the toilet

I’ve had good days and bad, and it’s been physically and mentally challenging at times. Looking back, I thought I’d share some of the key things I’ve learnt so far.

1. Nursing is messy…

…and the bodily fluids are only the half of it! It’s complicated, unpredictable and sometimes feels impossible to use all the theory we’ve been taught at university in practice.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach and I’ve constantly had to adjust and adapt to match the needs of each patient, who are all individuals with their own character, ideas and worries. No two days are ever the same, that’s for sure.

2. Healthcare assistants are our best friends

On my first day someone asked me to get a bedpan from the sluice. I had no idea what they meant or what I should be looking for – I think I walked round the ward for a good five minutes before I finally plucked up the courage to ask.

I had to start from scratch and it was the healthcare assistants on our ward that really helped teach me the core elements of care. I especially loved seeing the way they relate to patients; singing a familiar song to a distressed patient with dementia or taking the time to paint someone’s nails.

They have become invaluable allies and I owe a lot to their patience and encouragement.

3. It’s the little things that count

It’s so easy to get caught up in the long list of jobs that need to be completed and forget what really matters to the patient.

Whether it’s spending time combing someones hair or fetching a fresh jug of cold water, those small acts are what make people feel cared for.

4. Fake it ’til you make it

There have been few nerve-wracking moments over the last few weeks: my first bed bath, giving an injection, doing a drug round – but patients can smell fear and I think when I’m anxious they too feel worried and uncomfortable.

Even when I’m nervous and my heart is going 100 miles an hour I now try my best to at least appear calm and in control. Hopefully one day it’ll all be second nature, but for now I’m just going to have to fake it!

5. It’s down to me to make the most of every placement

On a busy ward you can’t spend every minute with your mentor or another nurse, but as a result you sometimes feel like you’re missing out on learning proper nursing things.

I’ve learnt to ask lots of questions and always have an ear out for anything going on; ‘what’s that - did someone say catheter?’ for instance.

It can be tempting to watch procedures but one nurse told me not to hesitate and get stuck in. Patients are usually understanding that things might take a little longer - and they can give you just as much encouragement.

Catherine Bates is a current first-year adult nursing student at University of Manchester

Catherine is part of a group of nursing and midwifery students at the University of Manchester writing a blog aimed at supporting first-year students. This student-led project launched last year particularly focuses on sharing experiences about placement


Readers' comments (2)

  • Catherine, thank you for taking the time to.write your blog. It resonated with me so much I went straight back to my first placement way back in 1983. The first experience never leaves.

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  • Thank you for sharing catherine I'm starting adult nursing this september! !

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