By Lucy Osborn MACN (ENL)
Welcome to the world of nursing. Much like the weather in my hometown Melbourne, where you can experience every season in one day, you can encounter every emotion in one day when you are a nurse. Being a nurse is an extremely rewarding career and I commend you for starting this journey. Just a word of warning, it is impossible to love every day as a nurse, but I find the good days outweighs the bad.
My name is Lucy Osborn, I am a 23-year-old, second-year nurse living in Melbourne, and I am currently participating in ACN’s Emerging Nurse leader program. I grew up in Hobart and pretty much always knew I would end up working in the medical field. When it was time to start university I thought nursing would be a good entry point for wherever I ended up. I studied nursing at The University of South Australia, where I was selected to travel to the Cook Islands for an international study tour and the Solomon Islands to present at The South Pacific Nurses Forum. These were two of the most amazing experiences and helped me realise that nursing has so many pathways and I knew eventually I would find one that fitted me. After university, I completed my graduate year in Adelaide in emergency and surgical and learnt so much. It was a fantastic year of development for me. Even though surgical nursing has never been something I have particularly wanted to do, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed myself and how demanding it really is. After my graduate year I packed myself up and moved to Melbourne, where I am currently working with neonates – it is incredible. As much as I have loved every area I have worked in, I still haven’t been able to decide on my specialty. And although I am keen to start postgraduate education, it is okay not to know which area you suit just yet. That’s the best part of being a nurse, you have all the time in the world to find the scrubs that fit.
This column is all about the highs and lows of being a junior nurse, I would love your feedback and ideas about what you would like me to write about. My aim is to help ease the transition from university to grad years and beyond, find me on ACN’s neo and let me know what you want to hear or message me on Instagram @aussie_nurses.
How to be a “good” student
As a student nurse, being thrust into a clinical placement may seem a daunting task in contrast to your previous, mainly theoretical, studies. How do you make the most of this precious experience in various clinical settings? In this article, I provide my advice on how to be a ‘good’ student and best navigate the wards early on.
Have you noticed when you are on placements, that you warm to some nurses quickly and others you may never get to know? Nursing is the largest community in the health industry, we have more than three times the amount of staff compared to the next largest group, medical practitioners, (Aihw.gov.au, 2018). As human nature dictates, you can’t, and won’t, be friends with everyone. As we are such a large population, including a massive amount of diversity, it is completely normal to not get along with everyone you meet at work or placement. With this in mind, how do we work efficiently with those we have differences with? This is extremely relevant for student nurses and juniors, as we can sometimes be naive and targeted. Whilst on placements, find yourself a mentor, someone you get along with and someone you feel comfortable learning from. You won’t always be able to work with this person, but let the in-charge know you work well with this person and ask if possible to be paired with them. On the occasions that you are paired with someone that you don’t get along with or have trouble learning from, instead of looking at the negatives try and focus on something different for that shift. Some ideas for this are: learning in depth about medications or conditions, spend more time with your patients and polish skills like showering, bed making and clinical standards. There will always be something you can do with or even without your nurse, just remember your scope and requirements as a student. Make light of every day on placement and although some days aren’t ideal, try your best to find something constructive to do. Being able to find yourself jobs to do is a skill that you will use throughout your career – practice it now when you are feeling a little lost.
Unfortunately, not every nurse you will be paired with is a natural teacher, even as hard as they may try, it’s important to remember that being a preceptor to a student is a big responsibility and there is a lot more involved than letting someone follow you around. It is good to be aware of how you learn best, or in turn, how your preceptor teaches. You are going to have a lot of questions, try and gauge how your preceptor prefers to answer them. Some will rather you ask them as you go, some will need you to wait until you have a free moment. Keep a small note pad with you, write down questions and things you don’t understand, when you have time try and source the answer yourself and get clarification from your buddy nurse. Sourcing information yourself shows initiative and is great practice to when you are working alone, if you wait to get the answer from another nurse or a medical staff member you could be waiting all day.
Flexibility is a very important skill for any nurse, especially for a student or a junior. Try your best to be as flexible as possible with learning opportunities and breaks etc. – not every placement will be in an area you are interested in, but remember nursing is an extremely diverse profession and there are skills to be learnt in every area that will be vital wherever you work. Time management and assessment skills are found in any area of nursing, so don’t write off a placement just because of the area, learn what you can, even if what you learn is just that this isn’t where you want to work. Be observant on your ward, keep your eye out for other nurses who may be doing procedures that you haven’t seen before, ask your buddy nurse and the people involved in the procedure if you can watch or assist. If working on a surgical ward, ask your in-charge or facilitator if you can follow a case from start to finish – admit the patient, follow them down to theatre, watch the procedure, assist in recovery and finally take the patient back to your ward and discharge. This is a great way of understanding all aspects of working within a surgical area. If this is not an option that is okay, not every hospital has the capacity to facilitate this, but it is likely that the nursing team will help you sort an alternative.
Being a good student on placement is really hard and what makes you a good student will change depending on who you ask. Placement is about practicing what you have learnt at university in the clinical setting. If you are feeling you are not able to do this for whatever reason, speak to your facilitator, nurse-in-charge or someone from your university, they can help you ensure you are getting the most out of your placements. Use your initiative, always try hard, smile and be friendly – these are my top tips for being a good student nurse.
Aihw.gov.au. (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/cce76972-bbfd-415c-9e9d-c68fac8243bd/ah16-2-3-who-is-in-the-health-workforce.pdf.aspx [Accessed 27 May 2018].
Applications for the 2019 ENL program are currently open. If you want to follow in Lucy’s footsteps head to www.acn.edu.acu/enl and apply to become one of our next ENLs by 24 July.