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How to prepare for life as a student nurse

How to prepare for life as a student nurse

We take a look at some of the factors to consider before you begin life as a student nurse, and offer advice from nurses who have already qualified.

First of all, congratulations on getting your place at university to study nursing. Not everyone gets a place on a coveted nursing course, so you deserve to feel proud. But it’s not going to be plain sailing. I’m sure every nurse will tell you that your training will be tough and it will challenge you, but it will ultimately reward you with the foundation in skills and knowledge to start work as a qualified nurse.


Once you have accepted an offer on a nursing course and received confirmation of this, your details will be passed to the NHS student bursaries organisation. You will be sent instructions on how to set up your account online and apply for your bursary and maintenance funding. You need to do this even if you think you won’t be eligible for any of the means tested parts of the bursary or you won’t get your fees paid for.

You may also be eligible for a student loan, and once you’ve got a confirmed offer you can contact the student loans company to find out exactly how much you could be entitled to borrow.

Reading List

Your university will probably issue you with a book list or a reading list in your starter pack, but don’t instantly go out and buy the whole lot! Start by doing some research online to find out which books other student nurses have found particularly useful and which types of books would work best for you. For example, there are several different types of anatomy and physiology textbooks out there and until you look, you might not know which one you would prefer to use. Try to get copies of a selection of books on the list from your local library before term starts and when you’ve begun your course then decide which books to purchase.

Your university will undoubtedly have a library that you can use and they will stock most, if not all, of the books on the reading list. Once you know which ones you like I would suggest purchasing a core collection of textbooks for your own use. Your whole cohort will be clamoring for the same library books at the same time when an assignment is issued, and you could find it tough to get hold of popular books in time for your deadline.


When you get your starter pack through from your University, read the policy on shoes for clinical skills modules and placements. You will need a comfortable, usually black, pair of shoes to wear, but many universities do not allow trainers, crocs or other open-toed footwear so check the rules carefully before you buy.

It’s worth investing in a good quality pair of shoes because they will reduce the aching you can get from long days on your feet and improve your posture. The right pair of shoes will make moving into a placement environment so much easier, and it’s important you shop around to find the right fit for you. There are several different brands that are acceptable, but it’s down to the individual university to set out the requirements.

So now you’re a student nurse

As with any new stage in life it takes a few days to get used to your new surroundings and activities. You’ll get to know the other students in your cohort, find your way around the university campus and experience your learning timetable. You might find even find out your first placement early on in the first term depending on your university.

We recently held a discussion on our Nurses Facebook page about the advice that qualified nurses wish they had known when they became students, and the overwhelming point made was don’t be afraid to ask questions. Two of the comments left were,

“Don't be afraid to ask your colleagues (& all staff in fact) for advice and support. I trained in the 1970s & it was quite difficult then to ask for advice, as it was quite honestly, very hierarchical. I learnt later that colleagues are only too delighted to help & don't look down on you for asking for support.”

“No question is a stupid question, if you don't know or understand something - just ask. Patients can be your best source of enquiry and they are generally delighted to help nurses - not just students but all nurses to understand their condition. Remember quite often the patient is in fact the expert!”

Another excellent point made was that nursing isn’t just a job, it's a life choice. You must care passionately about what you do in order to find nursing a rewarding career. Remember the passion you felt when you first thought about becoming a nurse, and everything you’ve been through to get where you are today.

“Nursing isn’t just a job it is a life choice, you are representing nursing and care at all times.”

Unfortunately there might be times when you encounter other nursing and midwifery staff who, for whatever reason, have less passion than you and you may find working with them difficult. Try not to loose your enthusiasm, try to stay motivated and work as hard as you can to learn as much as possible. But if you’re ever in a situation that is worse than just de-motivating and it’s turning into bullying, consult your university policy or course handbook for dealing with it. One user wrote in our discussion,

“Whilst you will find many good teachers and mentors on your journey to becoming a midwife who are really interested and committed to making your experiences positive and enriching, you will also come across a few, as I did who just do not enjoy what they do anymore. Unfortunately there can be a culture of bullying and intimidation in midwifery that can make student life miserable and unrewarding. Do not suffer in silence because you are afraid that reporting a member of staff will have a negative outcome for you because you will not learn anything and as your confidence is eroded you will make silly mistakes. Report what is happening to you immediately...”

Don’t let your learning experience be put at risk by someone else, but equally try not to form negative preconceptions about any placement. Bullying does happen, but that doesn’t mean it will happen to you. Be prepared for any eventuality by reading your university handbook to familiarise yourself with the support available and how you can manage the issue if it should arise. Your personal tutor will usually be your main point of contact at the university, particularly when you’re on a placement, but you will also have a workplace mentor that you can consult.

When you become a student nurse remember that some day you are going to be a qualified nurse responsible for your own patients, so make the most of this learning experience you have now to prepare yourself as best as you can.

  • You will need to ask questions, and you might feel insecure doing so at first, but every nurse was once the position you are now.
  • Don’t do anything you are not 100% confident about, always ask if you are unsure about anything at all, remember that patient safety and your safety are paramount.
  • Keep on top of your academic work, especially while you’re on a placement. Time slips away faster than you can ever imagine and it’s easy to get behind.
  • Tell someone if you’re having a problem with any part of the course. Your personal tutor, placement mentor and student services team are all there to help you.
  • Start your job search early. As soon as you're in the last year of your course you should be thinking about applying for jobs. Employer's are aware that you can't start as a nurse until you have finished your course and received your NMC pin number and they account for that when they consider you for a position. Check out all newly qualified nurse jobs here.

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