• 17 May 2019
  • 15 min read

Nursing expectations vs realities

  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

Now a fully qualified RMN, Chloe runs through the expectations she had before training to be a nurse and compares them to the reality of nursing!

Play video: Chloe's nursing expectations vs the reality!

Hello guys, and welcome back to my channel!

My name is Chloe if you are new here, and if you are I’d love you to hit that bright red subscribe button down below.

And of course, if you like the video then don’t forget to give it a big thumbs up.

So today I have got another video for you sponsored by the lovely people over at Nurses.co.uk.

If you haven’t heard me talk about them before, they’re a careers website built for nurses by nurses, and on top of all the fab career opportunities they have on the website they also have a blog where they talk about all things nursing related and they also share loads of great resources and nursing based discussions on their social media.

I will put all of their links in the description box if you want to go and check them out!

In this video they asked me to talk to you guys about my expectations of what I thought nursing was going to be like before I got into it, compared to the reality and what it’s actually like.

If you haven’t seen last month’s video that I did with Nurses.co.uk I will link it, but basically what I spoke about was what inspired me to become a nurse because that’s a question that I get asked quite a lot!

If you haven’t seen my face before, hello, welcome!

I am a newly qualified mental health nurse - I’ve been qualified for about 8 months now, which feels really weird to say!

It feels really long but at the same time it feels like no time at all.

Obviously as a student the longest time you spend somewhere is three months, so I had this really weird realisation the other day when I realised that I have been at this place for 8 months now and as a student I was never anywhere for more than 3, and it was a very weird feeling!

I am loving my job, I love my career. I feel very fortunate to be a nurse and to do a job that I love.

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What does a Mental Health Nurse do?

Nursing Q&A with Chloe

There were definitely a few things that I expected before I got into this that haven’t turned out to be a reality, or at least haven’t turned out quite how I expected them to be, so I thought I’d share those with you.

And I’m really curious; if you’re a student nurse or are already a qualified nurse, if you had any similar expectations I’d love to have a chat with you guys in the comments down below because that is the whole point of my videos as I like to let you guys know that you’re not alone, everyone has the same worries and the same thoughts.

We can get through this together!

Expectation: nurses eat their young!

The first thing I kind of expected and was really worried about, to be honest, was this whole concept of nurses eat their young.

I don’t even know where this idea comes from and I don’t know why it was something that I was worried about, but I remember thinking about it quite a lot when I began my training and it’s something that really worried me to be honest with you.

I couldn't help but just think, how on earth am I going to grow and develop and learn and become the best nurse that I can be, if I’ve got people around me who should be supporting me and in fact they’re just scary and unapproachable and condescending?

As for the reality, this is going to depend on who you speak to, but for me personally I didn’t experience this at all.

Apart from one nurse throughout my entire three years as a student and my 8 months as a qualified nurse, I have not had any senior member of staff treat me poorly because of who I was.

At the end of the day, student nurses are our future.

If you’re a student nurse, or soon to be student nurse watching this, one day you could be my colleague or you could have to care for me or a family member if we need medical care.

So surely, it makes much more sense for the qualified nurses and more senior nurses to support newer members of staff so that you become confident, competent nurses.

Like I said, there was only one nurse who really did adopt this whole ‘nurses eat their young’ type mentality.

If you find yourself in a similar sort of situation, I would say speak up - don’t do what I did, which was being completely miserable for two months and not telling anyone about it.

If you don’t feel like you can approach the nurse yourselves, you can speak to your link lecturer or your personal tutor and they’ll be able to support you to maybe try and build a better relationship with that nurse so you can get on better with them when you’re on placement.

You could even speak to the manager or the supervisor at your placement area, I’m sure they’re going to do everything they can to support you.

Don’t let one or two people ruin your experience because at the end of the day you are there to learn and that should be your priority.

I could not even count the number of nurses I came across during my training and early career, and for only one person to treat me like that just goes to show it’s really not as much of an epidemic that I thought it was going to be.

As I said, some people’s experience will be slightly different but in my case it really wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, and in reality there are support systems there; I was just stubborn and chose not to use them!

So please, learn from my mistakes and get help if you are really struggling with one particular nurse or mentor.

Play video: Chloe shares what she wishes she knew before nursing!

Expectation: nursing will be a straightforward degree

Another thing I was expecting was that it was going to be a fairly easy degree, and even those words coming out of my mouth right now - I just have to laugh at myself! I think mainstream media is to blame for this mentality.

If you watch a lot of medical dramas, often nurses are presented as ditsy, hair done nicely, loads of makeup - let me tell you, I don’t go to work looking like this!

I think people often have the impression of nurses that we don’t do anything besides give medication and bed baths and dress wounds and change bandages.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know any nurses before I got into my training that would allow me to see that wasn’t the case.

So whilst I obviously kind of knew that it wasn’t going to be as straightforward as it was on TV, I really wasn’t expecting it to be a challenging degree.

I went to a really high-achieving sixth form where, every time I told someone I was going to train to be a nurse, everyone was kind of like ‘why don’t you do medicine instead?’.

Nursing was almost perceived as being a bit of a cop-out, like it wasn’t as good as medicine.

I could have done medicine but I didn’t want to be a doctor, I wanted to be a nurse.

So I definitely think that I under-appreciated what nurses do and therefore how difficult the training would be.

I don’t want to sugar coat it for you guys, in reality it is a really hard degree - in fact, I think most studies will show it is one of the hardest degrees along with things like medicine and law.

Nursing is a really difficult degree, and I don’t want this to put you off because it is manageable.

I did it, most people in my cohort did it, but please don’t lull yourself into a false sense of security thinking it’s going to be easy.

It will be a challenge, but if you work hard and you set your mind to it you can do it, just don’t do what I did and just walk into it and expect it to be fairly easy, because it will hit you like a tonne of bricks!

For me personally, I didn’t find it very academically challenging.

I think the main things people worry about and struggle with are the biology, maths, and sort of being able to write a decent essay.

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• Complete career guide for qualified RMNs and mental health nurse students

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I was quite good at those things anyway which I know isn’t the case for everyone, but for me personally I didn’t struggle academically.

My issue was managing to fit everything in!

Unfortunately, as a student nurse you are going to end up in situations where you are on placement full time, 37.5 hours a week, but you’ve also got assignments due and exams to prepare for, and if you’re like me you’ll need to work as well to pay your rent.

So it can be quite difficult to manage your time and get everything done when it feels like it has to be done at the same time.

If you haven’t gone into nursing yet, one skill you want to try and brush up on before you go into nursing is time management!

If you are really good at time management, and budgeting as that will really help, if you’ve got those two skills down before you go into nursing it is going to make your life a lot easier!

Play video: here are Chloe's top tips to survive the night shift!

Expectation: no paperwork...

Along a similar line, I had no idea what a nursing role actually was, like I genuinely thought 95% patient care and thought you’d have to do some notes at the end of your shift, but otherwise you’d predominantly be doing face to face patient care.

Oh how wrong I was!

There’s definitely a lot more paperwork in nursing than I ever expected.

At times that can feel really frustrating but generally they are all things that are necessary and they do improve patient care or document the care you have given should you ever need that information.

Sometimes I’ll want to pull my hair out because I want to be able to join in the fun activities with patients when I’m stuck doing a risk assessment in the nursing office.

It is all part of the job, I don’t think it’s anyone’s favourite part of the job but it’s definitely an important part of it.

In medical dramas you don’t see the nurses sat doing paperwork!

I definitely didn’t realise how big of a role that would be in my job.

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Expectation: uni would bring a party lifestyle

Besides the role of being a nurse, I think my university experience was very different to what I expected as well.

I had this idea in my head that university was going to be partying (to be honest, I don’t party anyway) but I did think there was going to be a lot more of it than there was.

Societies and doing fun things with my uni friends, when in reality I had very little time for anything that wasn’t my degree or work.

I think if you’re going to university for a social life, nursing is not the degree for you! I actually remember before I started university going through the list of societies and thinking I’d like to try some of them, and in reality I didn’t join a single society or club or do anything besides the odd night out here and there.

The first four weeks or so I wasn’t in any rush to join societies, I just wanted to settle in and meet people and find my feet.

After 6 weeks at uni I went straight out on to my first placement whilst also trying to prepare for my first two exams and write an assignment and that was it, there was no spare time anymore!

Saying that, I know people who had joined societies and clubs and things like that, it all just seemed to depend on people’s personal preferences, people’s priorities and financial situation.

I was in a situation where I had to work at least two days a week to be able to cover all my basic expenses and things like that, so unfortunately I did have a lot less free time than my friends who were in a better financial situation.

It’s down to what you prioritise really, having enough money to pay my rent but also to be able to do the things I enjoy such as travel, and then doing uni work. They were my two main priorities.

I definitely expected to have a little more of the uni life, but in reality that didn’t really happen!

Another expectation that I can only laugh at now when I think about it, I thought I’d learn everything that I needed to know at university, like I thought they’d teach you how to do it at university and then you’d go and practice it on placement.

But in reality, what you do at uni is very separate from what you do on placement.

There’s very rarely any cross over where I did something in uni and thought that it would help me in practice.

In reality, how did I even think that something so academic would be applicable in such a hands on nursing environment?!

I remember sometimes at uni thinking that it was pointless and didn’t know why I was learning certain things, but in hindsight I do think it was all important and it was all background knowledge that I needed to be the best nurse that I can be, but also the kind of nurse that can think critically and can work for themselves and can progress in their future career, it’s not all necessarily things you’ll need for a band 5 nurse stepping on to the ward, but I do think it's important for professional and personal development.

But at the time I do remember thinking that it was so pointless but in reality it will benefit me in the long run, it just didn’t feel like it at the time! You are going to learn so much on placement about all of the hands on care you need to deliver.

It just compliments what you learn in an academic setting nicely so you’ve got the balance of being able to be a hands on practitioner, but you also have that background knowledge to back it up and make you better at your job.

Expectation: following doctor's orders

The final thing that I would say the reality of surprised me was that I didn’t expect to have so much responsibility.

Again, I think medical dramas have a lot to answer for in that sense because often when you see nurses they are carrying out instructions dictated to them by a doctor, so I genuinely thought in my early career that I’d be doing what I was told until I had built up that skillset and worked my way up the ladder to have that little bit more authority myself.

In reality we are very much healthcare professionals in our own right which I love.

This is definitely the expectation that I am most pleased about being wrong at!

We can have an opinion on patient care and share that opinion within the multidisciplinary team and be respected as practitioners in our own right.

At the end of the day, we spend far more time with the patients than the doctors, psychologists, the OT’s so our input is definitely valuable.

I’m not there to just do what the doctor says, I’m there to work as part of a team with the doctors and professionals, not just to be dictated to.

I am so pleased that this is the case!

As a nurse you are going to have your own personal responsibility for your patients and responsibility for your team and the NMCR governing body - definitely a lot more responsibility than I was expecting and responsibility that I’m glad to have.

So those are just a few of the expectations that didn’t translate into reality in the way that I thought they would.

I could talk about this for hours but I don’t think you guys would really want to sit through that!

As I said, don’t forget to leave me a comment down below so I can have a chat with you guys about these things to see whether you had similar expectations or different expectations.

Give this video a thumbs up and, of course, subscribe so you don’t miss out on any future nursing content, and I will see you again next time!. 

About the author

  • Chloe Lawrence
    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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  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

About the author

  • Chloe Lawrence
    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.