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Top 10 tools for your first surgical placement


Get ahead of the game in the high-pressure, fast paced life of the surgical ward by keeping these crucial tools to hand.

Louise Foster_SNT

Louise Foster is in her 1st year studying at Wolverhampton University


When I first set foot on my surgical care placement I had no idea what to expect; and I certainly didn’t know what I should bring with me. Hopefully this list of the absolute essentials will help anyone who finds themselves where I was a few months ago.


1. Nurse utility scissors

These are the type that bend at the top. You can buy them online for just a few quid and they will be indispensable when you’re removing dressings. Be warned: nurses love a good pair of scissors – buy 2 pairs just in case they’re “borrowed” and never returned.

2. Pocket tape measure

These are used mainly for measuring patients’ calves when fitting those lovely anti-embolism stockings. You will also find the tape measure uesful when admitting patients: you’ll need to measure the top of their arm to estimate their weight when they’re bed-bound.

3. A whiteboard pen

Keep up with name changes and dietary requirements and make sure these are written above the patients’ beds. When surgical wards get busy, the turnover may hit you fast: patients can be in and out of theatre, discharged and transferred to other wards at any time. If patients are due in theatre, we don’t want caterers or relatives giving them snacks because it still says ‘diet and fluids’ above their bed. Trust me: it happens.

4. A highlighter

To highlight important information on your handover sheet. This could be anything from a reminder of which patients are diabetic to who needs hourly catheter monitoring. Whenever information is vital, make sure it stands out.

5. A pen light

We need them to perform a Glasgow Coma Scale, but they also work wonders when you’re on a nightshift making observations at 4am in the dark.

6. Pens (lots and lots of pens…)

I suggest carrying four or five pens at all times. There will be one for you, of course, but also one for the patient who wants to complete their crossword puzzle and one for your fellow student nurse who has come unprepared. As for the rest of the pens? Let’s just say, pens tend to go missing when on the ward.

7. A pocket notebook

You’ll want to jot down reminders and record experiences for use in your reflections. Never rely on memory alone; your mind will be frazzled by home time. Notebooks will also come in handy to jot down handover abbreviations you might need to look up.

8. A cool/unusual but functional fob watch

Just watch the compliments flood in! Mine has a heart-shaped clip with a smiley face on and everybody loves it! (Perhaps this isn’t really necessary but I do like a nice fob watch)

9. Comfortable shoes

You have probably heard this one a million times before but seriously: if you’re going to invest your money wisely with anything then do it with shoes. Try Clarks – they have an amazing range. Make sure the leather is soft and ensure the shoe covers the whole foot (to easily wipe off bodily fluids!).

And last but certainly not least…

10. An enthusiastic attitude

Surgical wards can get really busy and you will get days where nurses are under a lot of pressure and, quite frankly, will be in no mood to offer you every learning opportunity on a plate. Try and take charge of your own on-placement learning and present your ideas to your mentor. Not only will you appear enthusiastic but you’ll grow in confidence and develop independence, taking charge of your own learning. During handover, take note of what needs doing for the day and ensure you get involved in a variety of tasks. By doing this, you might get the chance to dress a wound, watch an x-ray, insert a catheter, spend a day with a stoma nurse or even watch an operation.


Good luck!


Louise Foster is in her first year styding adult branch nursing at Wolverhampton University


Readers' comments (2)

  • Are you cleaning the scissors and tape measure between patients?

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  • Anonymus: Yep, there are Clinell wipes everywhere on the ward... they disinfect and sanitise equipment! Sometimes there are disposal tape measures on the ward aswell which you can use, not always the case though unfortunately.

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