Navigating the Minefield
Being a student nurse is akin to running through a burning building and making it out alive. It’s only when you look back at the house in flames that it truly dawns on you how amazing it is that you survived…
…okay, maybe it isn’t all like that. There are some truly amazing times too. We are so privileged that half of our training is involved in direct patient care, making a difference though we’ve barely been a student nurse for a year.
But student nurses are unlike any other student. There are 2300 hours of full-time non-negotiable unpaid placement and 2300 hours of theory to be signed off before registration. There are deadlines and exams during this full-time placement, alongside students often having families and second jobs to survive. As we go through our training, we take on more responsibility and become the ‘named nurse’ under supervision for patient care. There’s pressure and imposter syndrome to get over alongside all of this too. It’s no wonder there are many registered nurses who look back and think – “how was that me?”
So here are the things I have and am struggling with as a student nurse, and some tips to help you through them.
An expectation of yourself and comparing yourself to others
At any stage of your career, it’s natural to compare yourself to others; how much they know, how quickly they’ve fit in with the team, the ease with which they performed that skill. I can tell you now that it’s incredibly unhelpful. Placing an expectation on myself of how much I should know or how many patients I should be able to look after, only sets me up to fail as I’m constantly thinking about that arbitrary target number and how I’m coming across, as opposed to being myself. At the beginning of every new placement or situation, I say to myself – we all end up at the same point. Thousands of people before me have gone the same training to all become safe, registered practitioners – so enjoy the journey. One practical tip I would give is to keep a diary. I read through mine last week from my first placement in the first year, and felt overwhelmed for 18 year old me who’d just seen death for the first time. It’ll make you realise how far you’ve come.
Feeling as though you are ‘on show’ all of the time
On placement, being supervised for a whole 12 ½ hours is exhausting. Not only can the shift itself drain everything you have, but the notion of a mentor or supervisor constantly forming judgements about you can add an extra element of pressure – if you let it. Remember that they were students too. They know what it’s like. They’ve seen hundreds before you come and go in their workplace, and their job is to make sure you become the best nurse you can be. They want the best from you because they care about patients, about their profession and about the future of the workforce. Again, if you relax into it and be yourself, they’ll see a much truer reflection of the kind of nurse you’ll be.
Perspective, everything is relative
If you have non-nursing friends and family, there will come a time where you wonder if they’ll ever get it. They’re moaning about their terrible day, a scratch on their hand or how the food delivery is late and you’ve seen the most awful things that shift. But, until people work in a hospital, they’ll never know what it’s like. Their terrible day is all that they know. Encourage them to listen to you and begin to understand what working in healthcare entails. They’ll be able to support you and stand up for nurses in politics, in daily life. However, please remember that everything is relative. The way you see the world depends on your experience and context, and you get to see the most harrowing, but also the most amazing things.
Rachael Palmer is a third-year student (adult) nurse at the University of Plymouth & future staff nurse in Haematology. She is also a Healthcare Leadership Academy 2019/20 scholar, Bristol Cohort and 1/5 of the @BloggersNurse team on Twitter.