Careers advice and planning

Life as a student nurse

25 Jan 2023, 13:38

Read about three nurses' experiences moving from theory to practice and taking the first steps in their career.

Blurred motion of a student nurse walking briskly in a hospital corridor with a doctor pushing a patient on a stretcher.

The student nurse

Lucy is studying for a BSc (Hons) in adult nursing at Oxford Brookes University .

Why nursing?
My initial interest in nursing waned after lots of people told me that the pay was poor and the work undervalued. I opted to study American studies at the University of Reading but I didn’t really enjoy the admin work that I did after graduating. I hated working behind a desk and knew I needed a change – so I revisited my original career interest and applied for a nursing degree course.

Starting out
I’m on a three-year course and each term we cover two or three modules. Of these, one module has a practice placement attached to it so I usually spend three days at university each week and a couple of days on placement in hospital.

I don’t have to do weekend shifts but it’s generally considered to be a good idea to do some of these as it gives you a good idea of what the wards are like at this time. I don’t get paid for the placements but I do have the option of applying for an NHS-funded bursary. All the placements are organised from a central placement unit and we get very limited choice regarding where we are placed.

What support have you received?
The nurses I have worked with during my placements have been incredibly supportive. The university tutorial system has also helped me get to grips with my career planning. In addition to helping me decide which area to specialise in, the careers service has offered mock interviews.

Best bits: The hands-on placement work. Before starting the course I had no previous experience of healthcare work and on my first clinical placement I really felt like I was launched in at the deep end. Getting to deal with people at difficult times in their life is also a real privilege.

Worst bits: During the first year I felt quite anxious about the fact that I didn’t know which area to specialise in. Having already changed career direction once, I knew that this decision was critical. I needn’t have worried however. After completing several clinical placements I’m now clear about the fact that I want to pursue a surgical route rather than a medical one.

What makes a good nurse?
It’s vital that nurses have sound knowledge about conditions and their treatments because of the responsibility they hold, but they must also have good interpersonal skills. Having compassion for people and being able to communicate effectively with patients and relatives alike is crucial to nursing. It’s also really important to see every patient as an individual and to tailor their care with this in mind.

The new recruit

Donna is a staff nurse at the Royal Hospitals, Belfast .

Why nursing? I saw it as a good foundation for a career; a job where I could be actively doing something but not in an office all day. Before starting the course I did some voluntary work at a local hospital and liked what I saw.

Starting out
On my first day at work I felt nervous and apprehensive, but I was given a good induction. I met lots of people and was shown around the intensive care unit where I would be based. The course taught me the basic principles of nursing care. Now it’s down to me to build on this.

I learned a lot during the first few weeks – I had to stop and really think about what I was doing as I was now accountable for my actions. Looking ahead, I plan to spend some time in critical care.

What support have you received?
My colleagues were really welcoming. I relocated to Northern Ireland from England so everything was a bit unfamiliar but everyone was very chatty and always happy to answer questions. I could have taken up nursing quarters but I knew a friend who lived nearby so I moved in with her.

Best bits: Working with people and the feeling of doing something that makes a difference. I also like the challenge – it’s a taxing job thanks to the demands of patient care and the workload.

Worst bits: The early mornings – I start at 7.45 am – and while I don’t mind doing shift work it does sometimes disrupt my home life.

What makes you a good nurse?
I’m always happy to listen to people and I recognise my personal limitations.

The experienced nurse

Kate is a staff nurse at the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead .

Why nursing?
I love nursing, and love the fact that I have the opportunity to work within an interprofessional team of highly dedicated individuals. I enjoy meeting and caring for my patients and am lucky that every day brings new experiences and a new-found knowledge of who I am as a person. I work in a surgical ward, and we often accept transfers from the intensive care department. I have had fantastic experiences caring for adults with acute needs and have enjoyed the satisfaction when someone stabilises after an acute event.

What was your first day like as a registered nurse?
As a newly registered nurse I found the transition to full-time work challenging. I felt well prepared after leaving university but I was unaware of the anxiety and stress I would feel in the first six months. My experience is that as a professional group nurses are not good at expressing their fears and stresses to their colleagues. Nursing is a stressful job and being newly registered just enhances these stresses.

What support have you received?
I believe that experience is crucial to build confidence, and have been lucky as I have been extremely well supported by my colleagues. Seeking support from colleagues is difficult and I found it hard in the first few months. I felt that people would think I was unable to care for my patients if I sought their advice. I was mistaken, and soon found that support and advice was on offer daily from a wide variety of colleagues, from domestic staff to medical consultants.

How have you dealt with life or death situations?
I often find caring for individuals with progressive diseases emotionally difficult and have had the privilege of helping many of them take their final journey. When I first started work, I found this aspect of my job draining, and often felt that I was unable to approach colleagues. Again I was mistaken and had forgotten to recognise and deal with my own emotions; I was trying so hard to be the consummate professional I had neglected myself.

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