As a student nurse, as in life, knowing what you don’t know is as important as knowing what you do.
It’s perfectly natural to feel the pressure of not knowing enough about the job when you first start out as a nursing student. It’s only once you start your placements that you realise that learning on the job is the job, because you can’t know everything from the start.
christian wrathall crop
My second and third placements were completely outside my comfort zone and at opposite ends of the scale: from the health visiting team, working with children aged 0-4, to the community mental health team for older adults.
”As my knowledge grew I became an active member of the team”
I was daunted by my complete lack of experience in child development and the physical and mental health issues new mothers might face. Once the initial anxiety had subsided, I realised that learning was the whole reason I was there and actively seeking knowledge in these areas would improve my nursing skills.
Not only that, but as my knowledge grew I became an active member of the team.
With regard to the older adults’ service, to my surprise, I realised that physical health needs were the primary concern for most of the client group. By then I’d realised that my shortfalls in knowledge represented a challenge I could get my teeth into.
”My shortfalls in knowledge represented a challenge I could get my teeth into”
My mentor - a dual-trained RGN/RMN - was just the right person to guide me, as she emphasised that even after over three decades as a nurse in two disciplines, she was still always trying to learn and expand her knowledge.
She would find great amusement in throwing terms, conditions and areas of anatomy at me to go and look up for whenever I got a spare moment!
Realising you can never know everything is no cop-out - it’s the opposite. It’s a challenge and it’s your responsibility to find out things: ask your mentor, check the policy, read the BNF.
”There really is no excuse for living in ignorance”
The internet is a mountain of resources (with the usual “reliable source” caveats…) that there really is no excuse for living in ignorance.
This also extends to patient interaction - make the time to introduce yourself to patients, create a rapport and find out more about them. Perfect paperwork and a diagnosis will only ever tell you so much about a person, so build your knowledge of the patient by actually spending time with them.
”Realising what you don’t know opens your mind”
In doing so, you’re building therapeutic relationships which, coupled with a constant improvement in your knowledge base, help you grow as a nurse.
Don’t worry about knowing everything - it’s impossible, as there is always another medication, another condition, another intervention. But do worry about constantly improving and widening your knowledge.
Realising what you don’t know opens your mind and vastly improves you as a student, as a person and eventually as a registered nurse.
Christian Wrathall is in his second year studying mental health nursing at the University of Central Lancashire