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Underestimating the potential of first years


Nursing Times blogger Clare Aubrey wonders whether the current perception of student nurses does them justice.

As I finished my second placement the other day on a coronary care unit, it occurred to me just how far I’d come from being that nervous, little starter at university just 7 months ago. However, it also got me thinking about the variety of perceptions that are out there, especially when you are just a lowly first year. I personally have been lucky enough to have two brilliant mentors who have challenged me and allowed me to show initiative where I can but I have also met several other members of staff who would not give a first year such treatment.

One student I met was told that she could not perform certain tasks because she was “only a first year”, whereas another was told she should only concern herself with personal care during her first year. I have certainly never had any problem with involving personal care in my learning, especially as I have no background in healthcare and so feel it is an area where I could learn a lot. In fact, on my first placement, I specifically spent time with a very competent healthcare assistant just to learn skills and good habits. However, I can not help feeling a bit put out by the suggestion that personal care is all we can expect to be involved in during our first year.

This seems like a tricky subject and I know all about the ‘too posh to wash’ debate that continues to rage. I personally have no issue with performing any aspect of care that is needed by the patient at any time. I have bed bathed patients, served meals, cleaned dentures and been on the nice end of elimination needs but I still recognise that my time on placement is educational and I also have to consider my nursing skills and clinical skills within that.

I do feel like students can be a little underestimated at times and that perhaps potential is not always considered as it is too easy to box us into categories, i.e. first year, ex-healthcare assistant, etc… Whilst students don’t have much experience and experience does count for a lot, especially in such an evidence-based practice, the brilliant thing about nursing is that it attracts a variety of backgrounds and really brings together a range of people with different life skills and experience.

I myself come from a background of teaching English and so, although not immediately obvious as relevant experience, I bring with me maturity as well as communication skills, organisational skills, documentation skills and many others. I would just like to think that my potential and countless other first years’ potential will be seen by others and we can become a part of the team without being dismissed just for our status and lack of experience. Many of us have a lot to offer and we would like to be able to show what we can really do.


Readers' comments (2)

  • Marjorie Lloyd

    Well done for posting this it is an issue that is not clearly discussed in practice or university.
    We do have to take into account that everyone is different with different needs though so what is good for one is not always good for another. However, all nursing students should not be lumped together as being the same - that would be boring wouldn't it;-)

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  • Here, here! Certainly for mature nursing students we have had a fair run of the 12 activities of daily living and experienced variying degrees of health and changes in life course. I personally have loads of transferable skills which put me in advantage for learning and practising nursing. I have been lucky in the fact most nurses who I have worked with can recognise the areas in which I am competent and add to my skills and experience instead of delegating HCA jobs all day. I think it is the student nurses responsibility to earn the respect and trust from her placement team and be proactive in their learning. Unfortunately on one placement I was treated like an idiot without giving cause, and I hated the experience - it was boring, fustrating, and nearly made me quit my course as I dreaded every day there. Lucky it wasn't my first placement or I would have left for sure...

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