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  • 13 November 2018
  • 14 min read

Nursing placements advice

  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

This is the second part to Chloe's vlog, 'Student nurse survival guide'. In this video Chloe gives advice on placements within mental health.

Play video: Watch part two to Chloe's vlog, 'Student nurse survival guide'. In this video Chloe offers advice on nursing placements.

I thought I would give you some advice about placements.

For anyone who doesn't know I have literally just graduated as a mental health nurse, but three years ago when I was starting my training I think the thing that was scaring me most was definitely the placements because I went into this straight out of school so I had no experience whatsoever, so the thought of going on a placement was terrifying.

This is a part two to my ‘Student Nurse Survival Guide’, but part one is all about the academic side - today we're talking about the placements.

When you go on placement it will vary from university to University and even within your cohort because my university split the nursing groups up into two.

I was in group one so I went on placement first but group two didn't go on placement until six weeks after I did.

I went on my first ever placement six weeks after I started my course, so I had six weeks University and then I went straight out onto a ward.

I remember thinking ‘I'm not ready for this’ but clearly as I'm sat here three years later as a qualified nurse I did fine!

Do research on your placement

Depending on your university you will usually find out where your placement is a couple of weeks before you actually start the placement and my first piece of advice is at this point start doing some research.

If, for example, you're going into a CAMHS community team do some research: what do community mental health teams do, what do CAMHS community mental health teams do, what kind of things can you expect to see or if you're going on dialysis ward research dialysis, how does it work, make sure you really thoroughly understand the kidneys you know just make sure a good basis of knowledge so that when you walk onto that ward in the first day it's not quite as terrifying because you have a rough idea of what's going on.

This is where Nurses.co.uk can really help you out because they have got loads of resources and blog posts on their website, so it's well worth reading some of those just to help you get better prepared because they were written by nurses so it's gonna give you a really great perspective of what it's like to be working as a nurse in that environment or in that situation that the person is talking about.

The next thing you should do after you've done a little bit of research is make contact.

Normally you'll be given an email address or a phone number for the ward or the team that you're going on placement with and my advice is just to drop them an email or phone and just say ‘hi I'm Chloe I'm gonna be starting placement with you guys on such-and-such a date I just wanted to find out is there anything in particular I need to know before I start is and is there anything you'd recommend I research’.

Introduce yourself and show that you are keen because then they're gonna have a great impression of you before you've even arrived.

Another good thing to do is ask if you could visit.

Some places might say no because it's really difficult where it's not possible but I went to visit most of my placements before I started there and I just found it really reassuring to know that on my first day I would kind of know who I was looking for, I would know where I was going, I would recognise some familiar faces and again just have a better idea of what to expect which is really gonna help with those nerves.

Get to know the NMC Code of Conduct

Another really important thing to do before you go on any placements is to familiarise yourself with the NMC code the nursing and midwifery code.

If you're a new student nurse or prospective student nurse that hasn't looked at this yet do it now. I cannot emphasise how important the NMC code will be to you as a student and throughout your entire nursing career.

It's basically a code that outlines the expected behaviours and commitments of a nurse and it's a really good thing just to have in the back of your mind all the way throughout your training and when you're a qualified nurse.

It's also a really great thing to include in every single one of your essays - there will not be a single assignment where you cannot include and reference the NMC code of conduct.

I will tell you that now should get you some extra marks because it will show the lecturer that you can link your academic work to your practice which is obviously a very important feature of being a nurse.

Take notes whilst on placement

When you actually start the placement carry a notepad and a pen with you everywhere all the time - you should have a pen anyway because nurses always need pens and doctors never carry them so it's always worth having a few pens handy.

The great thing about having a notepad handy is that it means if somebody mentions something or you see something written down that you don't really know what it is but now isn't a good time to ask or to research it just write it down in a notebook and then when you've got a spare five minutes or five minutes that's a little bit less hectic you can ask one of the nurses you're working with or research it depending on what it is.

There's gonna be so many things that you're gonna come across that you've never heard of never seen so just jot them down and then when you've got some time you can properly look into it and understand it.

For some reason in the Health Service we seem to love our acronyms - I could probably list off for you about a hundred right now but I know when I first started I hated acronyms because they were just so many but you're bound to get confused by acronyms.

They do take quite a long time to sink into your brain sometimes so it's well worth just keeping a little list in your notepad so that every time you see it and you can't quite remember what that one is you've got a list in your notebook that you can refer back to.

On the similar kind of lines make sure you are asking questions. If you don't know what something is, if you don't know what something means just ask 99 percent of times people are gonna be more than happy to explain something to you or tell you what it is.

You might get one or two members of staff that are a little bit funny about it but you will eventually learn who these people are and not bother to ask them any more questions, but those people are very few and far between most people want to help you learn and want to help you grow as a nurse so they are gonna be more than happy to answer your questions.

Just think about the time and place; if there's a major incident going on now it's not the time to be asking questions, ask when the incident is over.

Spend as much time as you can with patients

Another really important thing to do when you are a student nurse is spend as much time as you possibly can with the patients.

This might seem ridiculous but it's so easy to get caught up doing paperwork, which is important, but you have got the rest of your nursing career to do paperwork and that’s quite an easy thing to learn how to do once you've done a handful of risk assessments you're gonna be competent at that skill.

Things like communication and how you relate to patients and you know dealing with maybe somebody that's quite upset those are skills that you are just gonna keep developing and developing so whilst you aren't tied down with the responsibilities of being a qualified nurse make the most of it and spend every spare minute of your time with the patients.

Only do what you're comfortable with and what you know

If you are asked to do something that you don't know how to do, say so.

One of the most important things about being a qualified nurse is knowing what you can and can't do, what you're competent to do because that's what the NMC expect of us they expect us, so if you don't know how to do something say so.

There's a right and a wrong way of doing it though, simply say to them ‘I'm really sorry but I've never done that before, I don't know how to do it, can you do it with me or can i watch you do it once and then I'll try it afterwards’ especially if it's something to do with patient care, for example giving an injection.

Make sure you watch it a few times first, you understand the technique and you feel confident enough to give it a go.

The nurses you're working with will respect you for knowing your limits and only doing what you are competent to do; even as a qualified nurse now I wouldn't dream of doing something I've never done before.

Don't be afraid to speak up

Another really important thing is to make sure you report any issues. If you see something that you're not comfortable with, if another member of staff is bullying you, if you're just not sure report it to somebody.

Do not have all that weight and responsibility on your shoulders, hand it to somebody else.

Speak to your mentor, speak to the ward manager or university just make sure that you're not the one holding on to information, you should always make sure that somebody else knows what's going on.

Spend time with other professionals

Another thing that I would really recommend while you are a student is to spend some time with other professionals, whether you're working in a ward or a community team but the vast majority of time you'll be working on what are called MDT's (multi disciplinary teams) so that means you'll have nurses, you'll have care assistants, you'll have doctors, consultants, maybe psychologists, maybe physiotherapists, maybe occupational therapists.

There are gonna be so many people working within close proximity to you that, as a student, it’s the best time to get to understand their roles better and it's really important as a nurse to know what our colleagues do because then we can make appropriate referrals.

As a qualified nurse you are not gonna get the opportunity to dip in and out and go and see what other people are doing so make the most of it when you're a student, whether that be spending a day shadowing the doctors or attending an assessment with a physiotherapist.

If you ask your mentor and explain to them why you're interested in that then in my experience they're gonna have no problem with you going along and seeing what other people do.

Ask about further learning opportunities

It's also really great to ask your mentor what learning opportunities are available because I know if you're in a certain Ward there might be the opportunity to go and observe in theatres or there might be a community team sort of closely attached to the ward that you're working on and students might be able to go out and spend some time with the community team as well to get a really well-rounded experience.

In my case I had a CAMHS community placement and I got to do some training that allowed me to do ADHD assessments so that meant that I went into schools to assess children that had been referred for ADHD assessments and I had to write a report about that child afterward, talking about whether or not they met the key criteria for ADHD and that is something that never would have happened if I hadn't of asked.

I was completely independent, I went to these schools on my own wrote the reports and submitted them to the psychiatrist that was dealing with the child's ADHD referral so it was really empowering as a student to be trusted and to be able to go and do something on my own and I never would have got the opportunity if I hadn't have asked.

Get into good habits ASAP

Another really really important thing as a student is to start getting into good habits right from the get-go.

By good habits I mean things like taking breaks, eating and drinking well, when you're on shift sharing the workload - things that seem really obvious and often get forgotten.

I think if you get into the habit of doing that while you're a student nurse you will then hopefully continue that throughout your practice.

There are gonna be days when I know you're really short-staffed or there's a major incident going on that's gonna affect that but if you go out of your way to try and take care of yourself during your shifts it's gonna make your life a lot easier and then those good habits will hopefully follow you throughout your nursing career.

It's also really good to be aware that sometimes you're gonna have placements that you don't enjoy or in areas that you would never want to work in, however go into them with an open mind just because you don't want to work in that field doesn't mean you aren't gonna learn something.

For example, when I found out I was going to be on placement with older people on a dementia ward I wasn’t too excited as I didn’t want to work with older people, however it was by far one of my best placements and definitely the one that I learnt the most in.

There are so many skills that I picked up through working with older adults from personal care, I learnt so much about physical health, I've got to spend so much time just sitting and talking to people; it was by far my best learning experience even though I have absolutely no intention of working in dementia care.

I've met a lot of people that have changed their minds where they've been so determined to work in a certain area when they qualify and then they had an amazing placement in a completely different area and then they've ended up working in that area.

Being on placement is stressful - don't let it get the better of you

My very final piece of advice is being on placement is stressful. I'm not gonna lie to you it's very stressful, you are often gonna have times when you're on placement but you've also got assignments to do and exams to prepare for and if you're like me you might have to work on top of your placements.

It is gonna be stressful so make sure you look after yourself, make sure you have downtime, you are not a robot you are a human being and you need to look after yourself.

Make sure you're sleeping well, eating well, exercising, doing things that you enjoy; don't allow yourself to burn out before you've even started your career because a burnt out nurse is no good to anyone so make sure you take care of yourself.

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.