Everyone feels nervous on their first day at work. If you’re about to start your first placement as a children’s nurse, here’s how to survive your first day and get the most out of it.
1. Make sure you’re prepared
The more you research and know what to expect, the less anxious you’ll feel.
Second-year children’s nurse student Pippa Harrison says: ‘Make sure you understand a little about the placement you are going to, working in a theatre is very different from working in the community! Always phone them at least two weeks before, ready with a list of questions.’
If you’re joining a specialist team, ask if there is any reading you can do to prepare. Knowing what patients are most likely to present with should give you a clue to the kinds of treatments, clinical procedures and drugs you’re likely to come across.
2. What do you want to get out of it?
Your placement will offer many learning opportunities, but you will get even more out of the experience if you set yourself clear objectives.
‘Make sure you have a think about what you want to get from the placement, even if it is just to get confident with interacting with patients,’ says Pippa.
If you’re not sure what to prioritise, ask yourself what makes you feel uncomfortable or scares you. Setting up drips and blood transfusions or speaking in meetings? Set objectives with your mentor and keep a reflective journal to keep track of your progress.
3. Learn as much as you can
You’ll experience and learn a great deal during your placement – and not just from your mentor.
Michelle McKay, a second-year children’s nurse student, says: ‘Don’t feel you have to follow your mentor around – if something interesting is happening elsewhere on the ward, go and watch.’
There will be things you can learn from the wider multi-disciplinary team, including specialist nurses, doctors, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, as well as third-year students. You’re there to learn, so don’t be afraid to ask if you can observe procedures.
4. Say if you don’t know
As a student nurse, you are not expected to know everything.
‘Speak up if you don’t understand what they are talking about,’ says second-year children’s nurse student Tiffany Dent. ‘And keep a little notebook to write down words or drugs you can look up later.’
Treat the mistakes you make as a learning opportunity and try not to take any negative feedback to heart. Remember, you’re still learning – and constructive criticism is the best way to improve.
5. Make friends with ward clarks and cleaners
There will be times when you have general questions about the working of the ward. Rather than ask busy staff nurses, see if non-clinical staff can help.
Tiffany says: ‘Make friends with the cleaners and the ward clarks – they know everything! They might tell you more than you need to know, but my advice is to stay out of any gossip you hear.’
There’s a difference between being friendly and gossiping. Make sure you’re remembered for the right reasons.
6. Practice your communication skills
The best way to learn good communication skills is to see them being used in practice.
Children, particularly younger children, often cannot communicate their needs or pain levels very well, so you will need to be sensitive to non-verbal clues. At the same time, you’ll need to be able to communicate sensitively with parents, who are going to be delivering a lot of the care at home.
‘While on placement, watch how senior nurses communicate with patients and their parents, and see if you can emulate some of their techniques,’ suggests Pippa.
7. Be kind to yourself
A placement can be challenging on a number of levels, especially if you find yourself in an intensive care department.
‘Be ready to feel a little out your depth but remember, after a few shifts it will become more natural,’ says Pippa.
Whether you’re caring for a sick newborn or treating a teenage cancer patient, caring for children can be emotionally tougher than you imagine, so seek support from the team and other students.
8. Don’t forget pens and shoes!
Finally, don’t forget to take a fob watch, pens and a notebook. Remember, if you didn’t write it down it didn’t happen. Writing on your hand is not acceptable, and pens have a habit of disappearing, so take lots.
‘And the shoes… comfortable shoes are a must!’ adds Pippa. You’re going to be spending hours on your feet, so buying a pair of decent shoes is a wise investment.’
Interested in working as a children’s nurse? Find Jobs on CareerBuilder.co.uk!
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