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What is nursing?

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When I started studying mental health nursing three years ago, the main question burning through my mind was: what is nursing?

Sure, I had a good idea, after all I had researched it thoroughly, had some work experience, completed application forms and had been interviewed by different universities around the UK, but was this enough?

Did I truly know what I was letting myself in for?

I soon found out that the answer was no.

There are thousands of definitions I could cite and critically appraise, but really nursing can be pretty much whatever you want it to be, and that is the best part of it. Doing a course like nursing engages academia, caring and creativity to work with patients to improve their health and wellbeing - but there is no instruction booklet on how to do this.

This probably sounds terrifying when you are just starting out as a student nurse, but with helpful mentors and lovely, embracing teams it becomes second nature. These are the people who can really show you what nursing is about, but remember, it’s okay to disagree with their vision and to find your own feet.

After all, nursing courses are about you and your journey to becoming a registered nurse.

Our definitions of what nursing is will probably change throughout our careers. This may sound confusing, but being a student nurse has taught me that this is a good thing as it shows we are listening and responding to the needs of our patients. After all, they are at the heart of our work.

As a student nurse you have many opportunities to experience this new, foreign world of healthcare. You can go outside of nursing and see healthcare through the eyes of other people in the multi-disciplinary team. You’ll be able to find things you like, things you love and things that make you say “that’s not for me”. These experiences help us to understand healthcare and see things from different perspectives, which helps to improve our nursing skills. Importantly, they allow you to see where nurses fit into healthcare, find out what their role is and see first-hand how one person can affect patients’ health and wellbeing. All these skills learned and knowledge gained can be put in our nursing toolbox which we use in our everyday practice.

In truth, as I reflect upon the last three years, I don’t think you can truly prepare for a nursing course. I think the only way you can prepare in the slightest is by learning to say yes to all the opportunities you have in your grasp. If you can do this, then you will learn what nursing is all about!


Amanda Smillie is in her 3rd year studying Mental Health Nursing at University of Nottingham

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