Walking on to the ward to begin your clinical placements is so exciting. You’ve worked so hard to get to that point – hours in the simulation labs, studying, attending tutorials and countless exams. However, placement is a big jump from practicing vital signs on your family and friends and giving sub-cut injections to sponges. When you finally start to care for real patients, the reality of what nursing truly is starts to sink in.
Your time as a student will be fun and you will be exposed to exciting procedures and encounter patients with fascinating stories. As you work through your placements you will create your own bank of memories that bring a smile to your face.
However, it would be remiss of me to tell you that every day is going to be sunshine and rainbows. Being a student nurse is tough! You are often doing shift work for the first time, in a new environment, with new people and trying to make a good impression, it’s exhausting!
As I approach the end of my Bachelor of Nursing and reflect on my 800 hours of placement, I have so many memories and crazy stories to look back on. Each one has motivated me to become the best nurse I can be and left me feeling proud of the care I have given.
I would like to share with you some of the tips that made those tough days on placement a little bit easier. Thankfully, I’m now at the end of my placements and I can look back confidently and say the good far outweighs the bad, but I would like to share some of the things that made those tough days a little bit easier when I was a student.
1. Plan and Prepare
For me, preparation is key. I don’t mean furiously studying common medications and presentations for the clinical area you will be working in. Of course, that has its place, but you will quickly learn what your knowledge gaps are once you settle into the ward, and these can be addressed on placement. Have faith that your work at university has prepared you for this.
I suggest taking some time before your placement to sort out the non-university elements of placement. When you take care of these “life-admin” tasks, the overall placement experience is much smoother. Some things to consider are:
- Sort your uniforms out– have at least one clean set in the cupboard so you don’t need to frantically wash and dry it between a late and early shift.
- Plan your food! Don’t rely on having the energy to think up lunches each night. Try to think ahead and maybe consider getting into meal prep!
- Clean the house (or at least your bedroom if you live with others). Having a clean space to come home means you can enter relaxation mode as soon as you walk in the door.
- If you have children (or even pets) do they need extra care while you’re on placement? Make sure there is someone who can help, and maybe a backup person who can step in if you need them to. You don’t want to have to call in sick to placement because you can’t find a babysitter.
- Look at your roster early if you can! There’s a good chance you’ll be working weekends and some hospitals will also roster you on night shift, so you may need to shuffle things around. Don’t just assume it will be Monday to Friday.
2. Set some SMART goals or objectives
I know, you probably shuddered when you read SMART goals. Me too, but uni doesn’t harp on about them for no reason. If you can turn up to placement with a clear mindset of what you want to achieve, tough days become minor hurdles rather than catastrophic obstacles and will help you keep things in perspective. You don’t need to have the goal of curing every patient – that is not realistic and won’t always be the case. If you take that responsibility on you are setting yourself up for bad days. Try to think of practical things you can achieve and tick them off. This will really help to keep you focused on the positives.
3. Identify someone you can debrief with
You must find someone you can talk to or call when you need to debrief. This doesn’t necessarily need to be your buddy nurse or an educator, it could also be another student. As long as you maintain confidentiality, it doesn’t need to be someone on placement with you.
I know for me, sometimes my non-nurse friends are the best source of support because they listen to understand rather than to problem solve. The important thing is that you find someone you are comfortable talking to, who can help you to decompress after the tough moments.
If you’re struggling to find someone to talk to, I would encourage you to contact your university placement team who will be able to support you or direct you to an appropriate service. Another fantastic option is the Nursing and Midwife Support hotline. They provide free, confidential support to nurses and midwives, but also to students. You can contact them at their website or 24/7 helpline (1800 677 877).
4. Rest and reset
My final piece of advice is to create time and space for yourself to recover from the tough days. Try to take some time to just let yourself process what you’re feeling. For me, that looks like walking my dog, watching an episode of a favourite show, and having an early night. The power of a good night’s sleep cannot be overstated and will set you up to have a better day tomorrow.
Placement is such an exciting time, and I really do think you’ll love it. When those tough and draining days do pop up, remember it’s something that every student has experienced, and the feelings are not forever. There is always an opportunity to learn from these experiences and each day brings you closer to becoming a nurse! Speak up when you’re struggling – there will always be people to support you.
Hayley Pollock MACN is a final year Bachelor of Nursing student from Melbourne and an Australian College of Nursing (ACN) Emerging Nurse Leader (ENL). Hayley reflects on her experiences of clinical placement and time as an undergraduate nursing student, sharing her lessons learnt, as she prepares to commence her graduate year. You can read all of her NurseClick articles here.