• 04 October 2018
  • 12 min read

A day in the life of a student nurse

  • Chloe
    Registered Mental Health Nurse
  • 0
  • 7257

Nurses.co.uk vlogger and qualified mental health nurse, Chloe, is recently qualified. In this 'day in the life' video she shares her recent experience of being a student nurse

Play video: Mental Health Nurse, Chloe, details what you should expect as a student nurse

Here's an abbreviated transcript

Obviously this is gonna vary massively depending on whether you're currently at university or whether you're currently on placement and what kind of placement you're on, so I thought I'd try and cover a little bit of everything.

Lectures and Seminars

When you're at University you're going to attend big lectures where there might be 200 of you in one room having a lecture, then you will then also have seminar groups which will be like smaller groups of people in more of a classroom setting and quite often that will follow on from a lecture.

So you might have a lecture in the morning and then in the afternoon you might have a seminar group, you'll then do a few activities that will be based on the lecture that you've just had that morning.

Simulation Labs

Another way that you learn as a student nurse is through simulations.

Most universities that have nursing students will have simulation labs and these will be rooms in your university that are set out to look like a hospital, so it will have beds, equipment and some dummies.

These are really creepy when you first see them but you kind of get used to them a little bit!

You'll use these rooms to practice your practical skills, so that might be giving injections, monitoring someone's physical observations and manual handling so how to move someone from a bed to a chair and vice versa.

All these practical aspects of being a nurse, you will usually practice those in some kind of like stimulation lab setting.


When you're on placement, as a student nurse your day is gonna vary massively.

So my first ever placement was on an older adults challenging behaviour unit so that had a lot of people with dementia that, for some reason, couldn't be managed in a care home or in the community so it normally meant that they had kind of quite complicated presentations.

My next placement was then on a male acute ward so that's a generic mental health ward for men 18 to 65 and you will literally see every kind of mental illness possible.

Then in my second year I had a CAMHS inpatient placement, so that's child and adolescent mental health. It was a ward for 12 to 17 year olds and again you get quite a wide variety of presentations in CAMHS units. I felt very very lucky to have got a place because there aren't a lot of CAMHS units nationwide so it was an incredible experience.

My next placement was in a private male PICU.

PICU stands for psychiatric intensive care unit so it's somebody that can't be managed on an acute ward because their presentation means that they need a more intensive environment.

It was in a private hospital rather than an NHS hospital, which was quite interesting for me to see the differences and the similarities between an NHS mental health setting and a private mental health setting.

I was working with people that are generally a lot more complex than you would quite often find on an acute ward.

I also had a drugs and alcohol placement. That was a community placement Monday to Friday night by working with people who had substance and alcohol use issues.

Then in my final year I've had a CAMHS community placement so that's for young people who still struggle with their mental health but don't require a hospital admission. They can be managed safely at home but they just need a bit of extra support.

Then my very final placement was another male acute ward, so it was quite interesting because I had male acute in my first year and then I've gone back there in my third year.

I really enjoyed going back into the same environment but going back there with so many more skills and a greater depth of knowledge that really meant I got a lot more from that placement.

A typical shift

There is nothing typical about a day as a student nurse because it can vary massively but I thought I'd talk you through some of the activities that I would do on a typical shift in my most recent placement as I feel like that is the most common type of placement that you will get is acute wards.

The beginning of a shift

Generally, the first thing that happens when you walk into a shift is you would have a handover so someone from the previous shift, and they’ll let you know how each of the patients is doing, if you've got any new admissions, they might give you a brief summary of them talk you through their risks but it's just generally kind of letting you know what to expect before you actually step out onto that floor.

After that the nurses will usually organise the shift, so that might be going through the ward diary to see what things are happening that day, if anyone's got any appointments they need to attend, anything that staff need to escort them to, allocating different tasks to people and just generally sorting yourself out, working out what needs to be done during that shift.

Then it would be breakfast time which is a protected time so that normally means that, where possible, there is no staff in the office everyone's kind of out on the floor interacting with patients sitting with them while they're having their breakfast having a chat pointing out how everyone is doing that morning. Next would be medication time.

As a student you will always be supervised by a qualified member of staff while you're administering medication.

In some trusts like the trust that I trained in you always need two members of staff to administer medication, so even if they're two qualified staff they would do it together.

If there is a student it would be one student and a qualified member of staff, which I find quite reassuring to be honest with you because sometimes the ward is quite chaotic, there's lots of things going on whilst you're trying to administer medication so it's quite nice just knowing that you've got somebody to double-check things with and make sure that everyone is getting exactly what they need.

After medication time we would usually have something called ‘planning meeting’ which is where a member of staff will let all of the patients know what's going on that day what activities there are, if ward rounds are happening, arrange people going out and leaving.

Getting on with your day

Then it's time to just get on with your day which again can vary massively because sometimes you'll have ward round which is sort of like a big MDT meeting, a multidisciplinary team meeting, which means there'll be doctors, ward managers, nurses, community staff.

Loads of people get together and discuss patients, maybe bring the patient in have a chat with them about how they're feeling and make decisions about people's treatment.

You might have a tribunal going on that day, which is when somebody who is detained under the Mental Health Act has appealed that section and therefore they're able to have something called a tribunal, which is basically when independent people come in and assess the situation to see whether that person really needs to be sectioned.

There might be fun activities going on in the wards - the ward I was on sometimes we had a fitness group, we had a walking group and there were food preparation groups so you can get involved in those.

You might have care plans to do which involves sitting down with patients and discussing with them what kind of care they feel they need while they're on the ward and what kind of care we think they need, and just working collaboratively together to work out a plan for someone's admission.

There might be paperwork that needs updating which definitely isn't the highlight of being a nurse but unfortunately it is a very important part of it.

That normally involves things like risk assessments and making sure everything to do with the Mental Health Act is up to date.

There is no such thing as a typical day of being a student nurse.

You never know what's coming at you.

Practice Assessment Document

This is something that you need to get filled in almost on a daily basis.

The ongoing achievement record is something you only need to get filled in once at the very end of your placement and essentially at the point of this is just to confirm that you finish the placement.

At the top you just write in what the placement was, how many hours you were there, when you started, when you finished, then there's a little box for your mentor, which is someone that will support you when you're on the ward, to write your strengths and areas for further developments of stuff that you can work on in your next placement and there it's just a few tick boxes and a signature so just to essentially say they've done the placement.

The final thing at the back of this document is that you will get signed off at the very end of your training, for example mine says ‘this is to certify that student nurse Chloe has been assessed as fit to practice safely and effectively without supervision and practices at the level of competence required for entry onto the Nursing and Midwifery Council register for the United Kingdom’.

Interviews within your placement

You have something known as an initial interview. This is where you need to identify what you want to learn on this placement, then you and your mentor will agree how you're going to do it.

If you really want to be involved in a tribunal they will then try and arrange your schedule so that you can attend the tribunal.

So you just make a plan and then that's written down so it's confirmed.

Halfway through your placement you will have a midpoint interview so that is where essentially you just look at what you've already achieved, then your mentor will write something about what you've done so far and then you just identify what you want to do for the second half of your placement.

At the very end of your placement you'll have another interview which is your final interview and that will involve you just kind of like summarizing the placement and working out what you want to take forward from it what you need to learn in your next placement.

Then there's a few other bits that you need to get done in the books so you might be asked to get some feedback off a patient which is always quite fun to do because it's really good to see yourself through someone else's eyes and what they think you're doing well and what they think you need to do better at.

It's all really good your colleague telling you what you're good at on what you need to work on but it's just really interesting to see that from a patient's perspective of what they think you should work on, and I always enjoy getting feedback from patients.

There’s a space for reflection, so if I did something interesting I might write a little reflection on it about what I learnt.

There's space for other staff that aren't your mentors to write things down, so if you've worked with someone for a couple of days and you've done something particularly challenging with them they might just want to write a little thing in your book.

You will then also have loads of competencies to get signed off so in this case I had eighty-seven this year to get signed off. It’s just page after page of things that you need to know how to do and your mentor will have to sign it to say that you've demonstrated you can do it.

Then finally you also need to get your hours signed for because your hours are really important when you're training to be a nurse.

In order to join the NMC register, the Nursing and Midwifery Council register to be a registered nurse, you need to do two thousand and three hundred hours of clinical practice over the three years so that's why it's really important to get all your hours signed because that's what's going to actually enable you to actually get on the register to prove you've practiced enough to be qualified.

Useful links about student nursing and university

> A nursing degree is not easy but it is rewarding (Oct 2018)

> How to get into nursing at university (Sep 2018)

> How to write a personal statement for a University nursing course application (Feb 2018)

> How to use your nursing course and placement experience in your first nursing job interview (Jul 2011)

> How to write your nursing CV as a third year student nurse applying for your first nursing job (Sep 2010)

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  • Chloe
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

About the author

  • Chloe
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

I qualified as a Mental Health Nurse (RMN) in August of 2018 and started as a newly qualified nurse shortly after. On top of nursing I juggle creating content for both my YouTube channel and blog.

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