You’ve ironed your uniform and have two pens, a notepad and a decent fob watch in your pocket – now you just have to survive your first day on a real-life nursing ward! Whether you feel terrified, excited, or a mixture of both, here’s how to make the most of your first nursing placement…
1. Research the ward
A week before your placement starts, visit the ward to introduce yourself. If you are allocated to a specialist ward, research the clinical area to gain an understanding of the disease areas of your patients and what procedures are most likely to be used. If you’re not sure what to research, ask the ward sister if there is any reading you can do to prepare. Find out what to do when you first arrive and what your shift pattern will be for the next few weeks. Knowing what to expect will help calm your nerves.
2. Set yourself objectives
You will experience and learn a great deal on placement – set yourself goals and it will help you stay focused on your development. For example, you might want to practice taking a patient’s medical history or perfecting a particular technique. Share your objectives with your mentor, who may be able to point out learning opportunities you have missed. Say yes to every opportunity and challenge that comes your way – whether that’s a training course or extra-curricular activity.
3. Reflect on the outcomes
Once you’ve set yourself objectives, don’t forget to record and reflect on the outcomes. Keeping a reflective journal (separated into three sections: what happened, how I felt, and what I am going to do in future), will prove invaluable when it comes to preparing portfolio evidence. Reflection helps to make sense of stressful situations and reveals areas to research, as well as informing your decision making process when a similar situation occurs again.
4. Keep everyone hydrated
Find out where the teabags are kept! Making a round of drinks is a good way to become part of the team and opens up the opportunity for social interaction. If you’re in between tasks or not sure what to do, making the tea, or doing patients’ fluid balance charts, is a good way to keep busy.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask
As a student nurse you are not expected to know everything, so don’t worry about asking silly questions. Don’t just call upon your ward mentor. The multi-disciplinary team – doctors, specialist nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, as well as third-year students, have things to teach you too. Be inquisitive and ask to observe procedures, such as operations and angiograms. It will further your clinical understanding and make it easier to explain what a procedure involves to patients.
6. Speak up and own up
There will be times when a colleague or patient asks you something you don’t know. It’s better to say “I don’t know but I will find out,” than second guess or work outside your competences. If you’re asked to carry out a procedure for the first time, be honest if you’re unsure about anything and make sure you are supervised. Everyone makes mistakes – it is part of the learning process. Own up to any errors, try not to be too hard on yourself, and learn from your mistakes.
7. Make friends with HCAs
Your first placement is a good opportunity to refine your basic nursing care. Don’t underestimate the importance of healthcare assistants. They can help you understand the workings of a ward and deliver care, such as personal hygiene, bed changing, and making observations, and will often have more time to help you than busy staff nurses.
8. Talk to patients
Take time to chat with your patients. Talking can help build a therapeutic relationship and the information they share could have an important impact on their care. Realistically, you will not like every patient you meet. They may be rude or aggressive by nature, or it could be their diagnosis. A thick skin and a sense of humour definitely helps. If a patient behaves inappropriately, be sure to report it.
9. Ask for feedback
Ask for feedback and be open to receiving constructive criticism. Try not to take any negative comments to heart – you’re there to learn and improve. It’s better to have any issues pointed out early on in your career. Even nurses with twenty years’ experience are continually improving their practice.
10. Share the highs and low
It’s natural to feel nervous, unsure of yourself and overwhelmed at times. Keep a smile on your face and behave professionally with patients – but take the opportunity to vent with fellow students after work. Talking through your feelings will help you make sense of things, and you’re sure to learn from other’s experiences. If nothing else, you’ll realise that others are going through the same highs and lows as you.
Image Copyright: Wavebreakmedia, Shutterstock.com