Hey there, Student Nurse.
I see you.
You’ve made it through another year of your nursing degree, possibly even your final year, and I want to tell you something.
You. Are. Awesome.
From one who has been in your shoes; who has (for years!) juggled the seemingly insurmountable load of essays, and exams, and unpaid placement blocks, and the emotional stress of constantly being re-oriented to new areas, and new staff, and new patients.
I see you, and you are awesome.
Unappreciative Cat was an excellent study buddy, in his own, completely unhelpful way.
It’s been almost five years since I sat my final nursing exam, and although I returned for further study to complete my midwifery training, I remember the overwhelming excitement, satisfaction, and triumph as I walked out of the exam hall that day.
The constant studying, the lectures, the presentations, the groupwork, the placements, and the never-ending list of assessments. It was all over.
This was IT! I’d done it!
Then, came the next startling realisation.
Holy shit. I’m a real nurse. I’m responsible for looking after people. Wait….I’M RESPONSIBLE?? I think there’s been a mistake…..
With this in mind, I’ve come up with a few pointers for those of you who are about to head into the nursing world as newly qualified graduates (bearing in mind, that I myself am once again working in a graduate role; just this time, I’m a junior midwife, and I LOVE IT).
Honestly guys, you could have been the World’s most competent, efficient and outstanding nursing student ever to grace the wards, but I’m telling you, the day you walk into the ward for the first time, you are going to realise how much you really don’t know, and just how much your clinical educators and supervising nursing staff actually did on your behalf.
Be prepared to be humbled by this, and know that it’s ok! You’re about to enter an exceptionally steep learning curve, and as long as you keep your mind open to the fact that you are still there to learn, and you are able to let go of any hint of arrogance that you might have picked up in your student experience, then you’ll be just fine (and the first mistake you make – trust me, you will make mistakes -will sting a whole lot less).
Use Your Resources
And by resources, I mean the staff around you, and your graduate supports.
When you step onto the floor as a graduate, it is understood by everyone within that working environment that you are as junior as they come, particularly in your first couple of rotations. There is no expectation on you to singlehandedly run the entire ward, or to diagnose anything, or to save the world in general. So take that sense of pressure off your own shoulders before you even start. It’s okay to be the new guy. You’re expected to need help.
The only real expectation of you that you will find in the early days, is that you practice safely, and that you ask for help when you are out of your depth (which will be often).Nursing is a profession underpinned firmly by teamwork, and I encourage you to call upon the knowledge and skills of those around you with more experience. For the most part, you will find an abundance of support at your disposal if you seek it. That being said….
Select your network appropriately
It’s a terrible feeling to approach someone for help, only to have that request rebuffed.
Most nurses I have had the pleasure of working with have happily taken on the role of educator/support to new staff as required (myself included). It’s a part of our job, and it’s something we should ALL be doing without issue, however, in every ward, in every hospital, there’s always bound to be one or two nursing staff who, for whatever reason, just aren’t suited to the task. They might simply need a break from that role for a while, or they might be caught up with a particularly busy workload themselves, in which case, just be aware. They won’t be the person you want to ask to help you on that day. They might be fine tomorrow, but if the person you are about to approach looks fit to blow a foofa valve, then it might be best to find someone else to ask (I learned this one the hard way as a junior nurse).
Don’t forget basic care
It’s really easy to get caught up in a really task-focussed zone on a nursing ward, but try to remember the reason you are really there.
For some reason or another, somebody is vulnerable, unwell, and needing support, and it’s the crux of good nursing to provide care that is thoughtful, kind and enables the preservation of their dignity as much as possible. They shouldn’t have to ask you for a towel. They shouldn’t have to beg for assistance to the toilet. Practice empathy, and try to imagine what you might need if you were on their side of the bed. Don’t get me wrong, their medications matter, and the paperwork matters, and over time, you’ll manage to juggle all of those things. But, if you happen to ask a patient about their hospital experience, more often than not, they’ll recollect how they felt either well cared for, or poorly cared for, and THAT, my friends, is a direct reflection on us, as nurses.
And finally, the most important tip I can give..
Before all else, Look at Your Patients
My clearest memory as a graduate nurse was on one of my very first shifts, in my very first rotation on a medical/surgical ward. I was still working in a supernumerary capacity, with a clinical educator by my side, and we had just walked into the four-bed bay that I was to be looking after that day.
I was prepared, with my blank time-planner in my hand ready to fill in, and I was looking around that room, taking in (and feeling overwhelmed) by the amount of IVs I would need to manage, and the monitoring I’d be needing to keep an eye on, trying to see where the charts were, and wondering where to start. I noticed my educator move quickly to one of the beds, and to my surprise, and horror, she called to me to get help, as the patient was experiencing respiratory distress, and needed urgent treatment.
That’s right. In focussing so heavily on the equipment in that room, I hadn’t even noticed the laboured breathing coming from that bed, but she certainly had.
That was my first big lesson in prioritisation of care, and to this day, I do not start a shift without first greeting each of my patients, introducing myself, and visually assessing them.
Always look at your patient first.
Believe me guys, I know, the first day you pull on your shiny new nursing uniform, you’re going to feel a bit like an imposter.
You’re going to be amazing, and I promise you, although you’ll be sweating as though it’s the middle of summer in a car without aircon, and your heart will be thumping so hard, you fully expect that it’s audible to bystanders, you’re going to get through those first few shifts, and come out on the other side with so much more knowledge, experience and confidence than you ever thought possible.
So, tuck these little tips away into the back of your brain for later, when you’re ready to get out there and amongst it. And in the meantime, enjoy basking in the knowledge that your exams are finished (or very close to it), and that all of that crazy hard work has paid off.
I see you, and I’m proud of you.