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'There is no denying that some days on placement are awful'

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Speaking to my gran, a traditional ex-matron who trained in the 1950’s, it is clear that her view on how student nurses train these days isn’t great.

The idea of splitting nursing training into academic study and clinical placements seems worlds apart from the notion of training solely on the wards.

I expect I will never persuade her that my training allows me to develop clinical skills while attaining an academic education, so we may have to agree to disagree.

As a student nurse we have limited input as to where we are allocated on placement. We are told where, when, and for how long we will work on a particular area, and these can change at the last minute with no warning.

My personal experiences have ranged from a busy cardiology ward, an acute elderly medical ward, a respiratory ward, a sexual health clinic and even the mortuary (the mortuary was probably the least daunting of them all!)

I have worked with the acutely confused, the angry, the hostile and the depressed patient. I have had water jugs and oranges thrown at my head, I have been spat at, and I have been grabbed in places that I was not expecting.

I have found that as a student my role can be quite varied. While all staff on the ward, whether a qualified nurse or not, have to get their hands dirty, I have experienced placements where students are used as ‘an extra pair of hands’ and I understand from speaking with my friends that this is not uncommon.

We all know that wards are understaffed, but the concept of treating students as ‘supernumerary’ is something I have not yet experienced.

While this has become something I expect, I have had to on numerous occasions, ask to be removed from a particular situation in order to work alongside my mentor instead, in order to gain some useful clinical skills that I will be inevitably assessed on. 

I have however been able to develop clinical skills under the supervision of attentive mentors. In order to thrive it would be fair to say that your mentor has to become your new favourite person (and hopefully you become theirs). Whether this placement is for 3 or 12 weeks, your mentor is there to provide support, knowledge, and even a shoulder to cry on when things get a bit much.

I have personal experience of excellent mentors, and consider myself very lucky. I have been able to form trusting relationships with my mentors and have actually been quite sad to leave some of the wards.

There is no denying that some days on placement are awful, especially when things are thrown at you, however I have no doubt that once qualified I will experience all sorts of situations being thrown at me, and hopefully my experiences as a student will have prepared me for these - even if it just means ducking out the way!

Jenny Wilcock is a second year adult nursing student at the University of Leeds.

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