Kim Kaur, a third-year nursing student at Birmingham City University, wasn’t really interested in making close friends when she started her nursing course.
‘My husband had passed away in 2000. After that I felt I didn’t want to have friends. I was very antisocial,’ she recalls.
Left with three children to support, the former hospital clerical worker decided to fulfil her ambition to become a nurse.
‘I was, and am, passionate about nursing and I wanted to have some security for my children,’ she says.
In her first year, Kim devoted herself to studying and avoided socialising.
‘I’d sit on my own, I wouldn’t go to events. Then towards the end of the first year I started doing group work and had to interact with other students. I even made a few friends.
‘That’s when I realised how important it was to socialise. I’d been a mother and a student but I’d not been kind to myself.’
By the second year, Kim had become part of a close-knit group of trainees and was appreciating the value of their support.
‘We weren’t going out very often – that wasn’t the point. It was about talking to each other about issues we were dealing with, and encouraging each other.’
With her new-found group of friends, Kim also had the chance to take time out from her studies. They even took off to France for a few days after a particularly arduous exam. ‘It was great to get away and wind down,’ she says.
Of the many clinical placements Kim has enjoyed while on her course, she says her most recent experience of working on a urology ward has been the best.
‘I love urology as a specialty – it’s quite academically challenging, which I enjoy.
‘I’ve also made some special friends on the urology ward and there’s so much respect between us all. Working there has shown me what nursing is all about.’
To anyone about to embark on their nurse training, she says ‘it’s all about prioritising’.
‘Don’t go into it so seriously to the point where you become isolated as I did. But don’t jump in at the deep end so that you’re going out all the time either. You need to set yourself boundaries. And remember, friendship is important, so relax and enjoy yourself.’
Kim believes the friendships she has made as a nursing student have had an enormous impact on her professional and personal life.
‘The skills that I’ve acquired from my friendships are reflected in my working relationships.
‘I keep in contact with most of the students and mentors I’ve met on my placements. We often ring and text each other to see how we’re doing. I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that in my first year.
‘The whole experience has really changed me. And it’s shown me just how important friends and family are. I couldn’t have got this far without them.’
For James Squires, a second-year nursing student at King’s College London, the most enjoyable aspect of his student life has been the friendships he has made.
‘You’re with other students 24/7. You watch each other grow and develop. And soon these friends become your nursing family,’ he says.
The support of that ‘family’ is invaluable he believes, given the rigorous nature of training.
‘It’s a hard course to do – you’re always busy and you’ve got to keep on top of things. But a positive aspect is that the combination of practical and academic learning involves a lot of juggling which helps you to become better at managing your time.’
James and his fellow students socialise when they can.
‘It’s difficult to fit in but when it does happen, you’re with some good people who understand how hard you work and know that you want to play hard too.’
Training highlights for James so far include cancer and respiratory placements. ‘It’s great how everything comes to together – how what you learn at university finally gets shown to you in a practical context.’
A work-life balance is vital to make nurse training a positive experience, he believes.
‘Just because you’re a nursing student doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. You can’t help your patients if you’re “burnt out”. Remember, all work and no play makes you a dull nurse!’
Lesley McHarg’s career path seemed set. After nearly 20 years working in a bank she had a high-status job and a good salary.
But then a family illness changed her life.
‘It was when my dad became poorly that I became interested in a caring career. He was having chemotherapy and I saw the quality of care he was getting and thought: “I want to do that, to make a difference”,’ she recalls.
Her first year as a nursing student in Ayrshire was fun but a real learning experience.
‘When you start the course you definitely learn from your mistakes. Even though it can be a bit of a nightmare at times, you can look back and laugh at the silly things you did.’
Her community placement was particularly inspirational. ‘Working with people one to one means you get to build better relationships.
‘And working with older people has been a revelation – when you talk to them about their experiences it makes you feel so humble,’ she says.
Now in her third year, Lesley hopes to specialise in community nursing. But whatever post she takes she knows that unlike her previous banking role, this will be no 9 to 5 job.
‘Nursing is much more than that, it’s a vocation. I love the sheer variety, the fact that every day you learn something new.’
She urges those about to start their nurse training to make the most of social opportunities at college.
‘Make the effort to get involved with university life – it’s well worth it. Attending the university freshers’ fair is a great way to meet new people. And you can also make friends through placements. I wasn’t expecting to but I was pleasantly surprised.’
She advises new students to keep an open mind about what to expect from their training.
‘Try not to go into the course with preconceptions – take time to make up your own mind about things.’
And she urges those who are considering a career switch to nursing not to hesitate. ‘If you’ve an inkling to make a change then go for it. Whatever happens it’s only three years out of a lifetime – and those three years will fly.’