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  • 24 February 2020
  • 12 min read

What to expect from your placement during nurse training

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Placement is an exciting time and for some, it may be what they envisage as being a ‘proper’ nursing student"Placement is an exciting time and for some, it may be what they envisage as being a ‘proper’ nursing student"

What to expect from your placement during nurse training - from finding out about your placement, to explaining Hub and Spoke, through to actually being on placement and what happens once it is finished.

Topics covered in this article


How many hours of placement does the NMC require from student nurses?

How to prepare for a successful nursing placement

Your placement visit

How you will be supported during placement

What are placement reflections?

Study time during your nursing placement

What does 'Hub and Spoke' model mean (and what are Spoke days)?

What networking means in a nursing environment during placement

What to do after your nursing placement

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Placement is perhaps the most exciting part of any nurse training course.

It is your chance to put into practice what you have learned in the classroom, and match theory to experience.

Placements are usually throughout the course, starting in the first year.

This article will guide you through what to expect, from finding out about your placement, visiting, through to actually being on placement and what to expect once it is finished.

How many hours of placement does the NMC require from student nurses?

The NMC requires student nurses to complete 2300 hours of clinical placement while training (NMC, 2019), however it is up to the individual universities to decide how this should be included.

The NMC requires student nurses to complete 2300 hours of clinical placement while training

For example, some placements require long days, or shifts of around 12 hours. Others might have shorter shifts, or a mixture.

Some universities have placements of 6 weeks, others longer.

I did the dual learning disability nursing and social work course at Sheffield Hallam – my final placement was a mixture of these, and was six months’ long in the third year.

Each placement builds on the last, and it should also match some of the theory you have been learning in lectures.

So do not worry too much – you will be given the opportunity to prepare.

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How to prepare for a successful nursing placement

Placement is an exciting time.

For some, it may be what they envisage as being a ‘proper’ nursing student.

Although learning theories and practising in lectures is also very important, placement teaches you a new set of skills and knowledge, and ultimately gives you an experience that you will struggle to learn in the classroom.

This is one of the reasons why it is so important to take your placement seriously.

Look out for learning opportunities while on placement.

Your university will provide you with some brief information about where you will be going, such as the name, address, and a summary of what they do there.

It may also include skills you may learn while you are there.

Almost everything at this stage is ‘may learn’, ‘might’, ‘could’.

This is your clue – these opportunities will be there.

It is now your job to seek them out, to turn the ‘maybe’ into ‘definitely will learn’!

Your placement visit

Once you know where your placement is, it is time to get in touch and organise a visit.

Some placements have an official induction, others show you around more informally.

All placements should offer you a visit before you go.

If you do not hear from them, contact them yourself and suggest times you are available.

Remember some of your fellow students might be at the same place, so try to arrange visiting on the same day.

Ideally, you should try to arrange being there when your mentors will be, however this may not always be possible.

Dress smartly for your first placement visit, or go in your nurses’ uniform if you already have it.

This shows you recognise you are now in a professional working environment, ready and eager to be part of the team.

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How you will be supported during placement

Although you will be looking out for opportunities to use your initiative and make the most of placement, this does not mean you will be on your own.

As well as your university lecturers being an email away, you will be supported by three principle people – practice supervisors, practice assessors, and academic assessors.

These replace what was once one central person, the nurse mentor.

Practice supervisors are responsible for supporting students on placement.

They can be midwives, nurses, or nursing associates.

They will have up-to-date knowledge and experience of their area of practice, relevant to the student.

Practice supervisors once had to undertake an NMC-approved training programme.

This is no longer the case, however they may be supported in their role by other healthcare staff.

This could include phlebotomists, or other specialists if required.

The NMC expects all qualified nurses and midwives, in any area of practice and learning environment, to be competent enough to be a practice supervisor (NMC, 2018).

Practice assessors, as the name suggests, assess students while they are on placement. That is, their overall performance.

Although they also can be nurses, midwives, or nursing associates, they will only assess within their scope of practice.

Academic assessors ensure students’ academic learning meets the required standards.

Working closely with practice assessors, they confirm a student’s proficiency and ability to provide safe and effective care.

They may also make recommendations to allow a student to progress.

What are placement reflections?

While on placement, you will be expected to complete reflections of your time there.

This requires you to think about an experience, and write down your thoughts and feelings on it.

Think about what went well and why, or what could have been improved.

A lot of the suggestions for experiences deserving reflection are often focussed on things that went wrong – either through human error, or systems within organisations that inadvertently allow issues to go unnoticed until tragedies occur.

A good starting point to understand how and why these can happen are to look up what are called serious case reviews.

However, positive outcomes are also cause for reflection.

The purpose of reflections is to continually develop you into a capable and competent practitioner.

From this viewpoint, it is easy to see why you might want to think about what went well so that you can try and repeat it in future.

You will be expected to write reflections throughout your nursing career (it is one of the requirements for revalidation every three years, for example) so take the opportunity on placement to really try and get to grips with writing reflections.

By writing this way, it will hopefully also develop your critical thinking skills so you end up always thinking – why am I doing this?

Is this the best way?

Some people find a reflective diary useful, jotting down thoughts of each day and how it went.

This is not only useful for drawing on more in-depth reflections later, but also future job applications.

These require you to detail how your experience meets their criteria, and it is easy to forget the wealth of knowledge and experience you will have gained over your three year course.

A reflective diary means you can quickly locate your experiences, and match them to the essential criteria or even talk about them in job interviews.

Study time during your nursing placement

During placement, you should be allocated some hours per week for study time.

This can sound great – an afternoon off each week? Perfect!

However, be cautious how you plan to spend this time off.

It is meant for studying!

You will still have assignments and coursework to complete while on placement, this can be valuable time to get these done.

You could also spend it looking up theories to match what you are doing on placement.

This will tie in to you being able to justify everything you are doing, and lead to good evidence-based practice.

Maybe you have witnessed a procedure or learnt a new medical term you weren’t sure of.

Now is the time to look this up.

You could also ask colleagues on placement if there is anything useful you could learn – sometimes gaping holes in our knowledge completely pass us by, or there are things about to happen that we are unaware of.

Perhaps someone is getting ready for a new admission, and you could learn about their condition in advance.

Don’t forget you will still have access to all that your university has to offer during placement.

This includes library facilities and your lecturers.

If you are struggling in some way, financially for example, have a look at your student union.

You are still a student, after all, even while on placement.

What does 'Hub and Spoke' model mean (and what are Spoke days)?

Hub means your main placement site. Some universities operate a ‘hub and spoke’ model.

This means you will have your main placement site (your hub) and then offered ‘spoke’ days to gain experience in other environments.

Think of it like a bicycle wheel – the centre, then the spokes coming from it.

These can be the ideal time to explore new skills, think of different reflections, and gain a flavour of how it is outside of your immediate specialism.

If you are sure you would like to work in the area your main placement is at, still do not discount the different experiences you will get and the people you will meet.

Even if your heart and mind is set on a specific client group, spoke days will allow you to meet the inter-professional team around you.

These are the people you may be working with throughout your nursing career, whatever specialism you end up in.

For example, as a learning disabilities nurse I needed to have some experience with all the other areas of nursing.

I knew I was not going to go into midwifery, for example.

However, someone with a learning disability can still become pregnant.

In this case, they will still be meeting with the midwife team and I could very well be their access point to these services.

This is just one example of how useful it can be to have experience outside your own field, however limited.

What networking means in a nursing environment during placement

It also builds up your network of professionals.

Networking is sometimes used to mean superficially making friends with people, only if they can do something for you.

networking in nursing is important in exchanging ideas, keeping up with research, finding out about conferences or other events, and generally making sure you give service users care that is the most up-to-date and evidence based as possible.

However, networking in nursing is important in exchanging ideas, keeping up with research, finding out about conferences or other events, and generally making sure you give service users care that is the most up-to-date and evidence based as possible.

This kind of professional networking is very different – less self-centred, and more focussed on how to support people in healthcare.

On placement, you will meet a lot of different people, at all stages in their careers or life.

Some things may be useful later on, or you may only recognise the value of something a couple of years later.

A small venue running events for people with autism might be useful to someone you meet when you qualify, for example, that you can direct them to. You might want to work at one of your placements after qualifying, and can use your contacts to enquire about vacancies.

Maybe you have a new job, but someone you are supporting would benefit from a service your last placement provided.

All of these links can be made through networking, and being memorable on placement.

Memorable students are ones who get involved in teamwork, treat the placement like a job (although making time for assignments also!), and showing passion for the work you are doing and people you are working with.

What to do after your nursing placement

The end of placement I found, was ensuring all the paperwork had been completed and I had all the testimonies.

Make sure everything is signed and dated.

My university sent us back to find signatures if necessary.

This could be a month after we had left, so save yourself time and effort by making sure everything is done before you leave!

Coming back to university should be a time for reflection, learning, and catching up.

Your peers will also be excited about their placements, and now is a good chance to learn and share your new knowledge.

You will also be focussing on settling back into lectures of course.

Overall, this article has given you some ideas about how best to use your placement time.

Ultimately, your university and placement will provide plenty of support and learning opportunities.

It is up to you to take control of your learning and professional development by taking advantage of them.

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About the author

I am a qualified Learning Disability Nurse and Social Worker. I first worked with children who have learning disabilities whilst studying classical civilisation in Leeds. After seven years of working in care, I realised I wanted to take my passion further and qualify at a professional level. I am passionate about giving the people I work with, as much independence as possible.

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