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  • 13 November 2018
  • 12 min read

Student nurse survival guide

  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

Chloe is a recently qualified RMN, graduating from LSBU. Here's her survival guide on how to get through your nursing degree.

Play video: Here's Chloe's survival guide on how to get through your nursing degree.

This video is going to focus on the academic side of training to be nurse right now. I'm gonna have a part two to this video coming really soon, that's gonna be more about placement and practice like that so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for that.

I know that before you start uni can be a really intimidating and daunting time because it's really hard to know what to expect and there isn't a lot of information out there.

I would highly recommend before you start you just keep an eye on the news and look at issues that are facing nursing currently and your particular branch of Nursing.

I said I work in mental health so just keep an eye on the news and see what are kind of like the current topics the current issues facing nursing; that might be new medications that are being tested, new research which has suggested a better type of treatment for a certain condition, new guidelines - there are so many things are going on in nursing constantly and one of the most important things about being a nurse is keeping up to date so by getting into the habit of sort of reading the news and knowing what's going on before you even get into the field it's just gonna be a really great skill to have.

A lot of the assignments you write you can individualise so you can pick something that's really really interesting to you focus your assignment on that because a lot of our assignment topics are kind of kept quite broad so by keeping an eye on the news and knowing what's going on you're gonna start to develop areas of interest and having those areas of interest is going to make it so much easier when you're doing your assignments.

Generally I'd say the best place to get advice is books the one that I would recommend and it is one that was sent to me by Sage nursing.

The book is ‘How to survive your nursing or midwifery course’ and I think survive is the key word here because anyone that is trained to be a nurse will tell you that this degree is challenging.

This book is great because it covers a wide range of topics so it talks about juggling your time, succeeding in exams and assignments, what's expected of you both in real life and when you're on placement, managing finances, coping with stress and applying for jobs so this covers everything that you could possibly need to know.

So, if you haven't started uni yet and you kind of want to get a little bit of prep in what to expect then I would highly recommend that you read this book.

I think in terms of actually getting you prepared to start a course it might be a little bit overwhelming and kind of over complicate things that you don't need to worry about yet, but before you purchase any books I always suggest checking them out on Amazon and see which one works best for you.

Don't be tempted to buy older versions of books - they might be cheaper but it really isn't worth it.

As I said with nursing you need to be up to date; things change so quickly in nursing and if you've bought an older book simply because it was cheaper it might not be using at the most up-to-date nurse guidelines, for example or NMC code of conduct, so it really isn't gonna help you very much and in essays and assignments, you need to be using the most up-to-date sources.

Stay organised

Another tip for starting your nursing degree is to get organised and stay organised right from the beginning.

Nursing is full-on and while for the first few weeks it might not seem that bad you can get sort of lulled into a false sense of security and then suddenly it hits you you're on placement full-time, you've got three essays to write and two exams to revise for and it's just chaos.

If you stay organised right from the beginning then you won't have as much work buildup on top of you.

I would suggest you stay on top by doing the pre reading before you actually go to a lecture which might seem really obvious but you wouldn't believe the amount of people that don't do that.

Take notes in the lecture and then go over your notes after the lecture.

That way you can make sure that you understand everything that your notes make sense that you haven't missed anything out because there is nothing worse than going through your notes two months later when you're trying to revise for an exam and it doesn't make sense to you or you can't sort of piece it all together because it made sense to you at the time when you were writing the notes but two months later it isn't any help, and then rather than revising you're actually going looking for information which is just a waste of time.

If you don't understand anything or you just want a bit more clarification, if you ask a lecturer you know a couple of days after the lecture they are much more likely to be willing to help you whereas if you ask them in two months time they're not gonna be as willing to help.

Manage your time effectively

Time management is also absolutely key. If you are training to be a nurse you are gonna have to juggle uni, assignments, placements, exams and then if you like be working on top as well as all of that so if time management is something that you struggle with, get on top of it now try and get yourself into some really good habits because then when you go to uni you've already got these habits.

Don't worry if anatomy isn't your strong point

I’m going to talk a little bit about anatomy and physiology because I know it's something that really concerns people before they train to become a nurse particularly if biology or science you wasn't your strong point.

If you do mental health or learning disability nursing you will have a lot less biology to do than i you do adults or children's nursing, but you are still gonna need to learn the basics.

So you kind of cover the basics in your first year and then in your second and third year if you are doing adults or children’s nursing you will build on what you've already learned and then for mental health and LD nursing you kind of you learn the basics and then you apply it in the sense of like medication and things like that in second and third year, but it's not anywhere near as complicated.

It is something you need to be aware of no matter what because people with mental health and learning disabilities still have physical health problems and if anything they often go undiagnosed because they aren’t taken seriously or they don't seek help so actually having a general awareness about physical health is always handy.

Don't buy textbooks recommended by lecturers

This is gonna sound a bit sort of counterintuitive but my personal opinion is do not buy the textbook that your lecturer recommends for you.

I know that sounds silly but in my experience a lot of lecturers will have also written textbooks or their friends will have written textbooks and the books that they will recommend for you aren't necessarily the best one, it's just the one that they helped write or the one that their friend wrote.

The most important thing is you find one that works for you that you like the way it's written, the way it's laid out, and it makes sense to you.

The best way to work out which one's work for you is maybe go and have a look in your library and see what basic anatomy and physiology textbooks they have, have a look at them and see which one you prefer.

Or on Amazon a lot of the books will have a preview so you can just have a quick look at a few of the pages.

Another good book by Sage is ‘The essentials of anatomy and physiology for nursing practice

An A&P book that someone studying biology might use is not going to be the textbook that you need you need, something that's all about health and it will make it a lot easier for you later when you relate it back to health.

It’s all well and good having the theory but you need to be able to relate that to health and also ill health.

The main reason that I like this book is because it sets out each of the chapters into four components, so it gives you the key concepts here that you're gonna be covering in the chapter and it gives you the learning outcomes. The main reason that I love that textbook is because it actually comes with a matching revision that is a colouring book now.

I just think this is an incredible idea. I personally find pictures really helpful for learning because I like to be able to read something but then look at a picture and for me visualising something just makes it sink into my brain better, especially with things like biology.

I love the fact that they produce a revision book that allows you to sort of learn it but in a slightly more relaxing way because you're doing colouring and you're doing slightly more fun activities at the same time.

Don't worry about maths, either

I know that people really worry about before they start nursing is the maths.

For anyone who doesn't know every year that you're training to be a nurse you will have to do a maths exam and in first year you only need 60% pass but then second year it's 80% and final year it's 100% and that's because the maths that you'll be doing is all to do with drugs and medication calculations, so obviously by the time you graduate you need to be getting a hundred percent because if you get it wrong when you're working out a patient's medication you could under dose them or overdose them and both of those can be really dangerous.

So it is really important but at the same time don't panic because once you've got your head around it it's a lot more simple than people think, so long as you have a pretty sort of basic understanding of maths before you start the course you will be absolutely fine.

I have been using the book ‘Nursing Calculations’ for the last three years to help me revise. It talks you through how to do the different types of calculations so it will remind you how to do things and then give you a few examples of questions and obviously give you the answers.

The main things that you'll need to be able to do are conversions so they might ask you ‘how many micrograms are in two milligrams’ or ‘how many milliliters are in 0.5 liters’ so once you know the conversion rates they are super simple to do.

The other thing that people get stuck on is count relating doses for injections. To work this out we use calculations called NHS calculations so very easy to remember.

NHS stands for ‘need have solution’ so the way that you work out is you put the need over what you have and you times that by the solution. Once you know how to do them you can't go wrong.

Two other books that I would recommend are ‘The Oxford Dictionary of Nursing’ and ‘The Oxford Handbook of Mental Health Nursing’. You can get these in all different types of nursing so you just get the one that's relevant for you. You are always gonna be hearing about things and reading about things that you have never heard of before.

If you have a trustworthy source that you can go to for a straightforward definition it's always very handy, plus I always like to include definitions in my essays and it's generally quite hard to get definitions online that you can reference from a reputable source so having a print dictionary like this has been useful on so many occasions.

It literally has a little bit of information on everything you could need to know for a mental health nurse for example it discusses the Mental Health Act.

So it's one of those things that I've used on countless occasions just to look things up and again this is another great book to reference in essays.

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
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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.