Issue 17

Perils & Pitfalls of a Student Nurse

If Forrest Gump was a student nurse, he might have said, "A placement is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you′re going to get ".

And he would be correct. Let me explain.

It takes three years to become a nurse. The course at Cardiff University is split into blocks of six weeks in the classroom, and six weeks in placement. This is repeated nine times – that′s the three years.

I can only speak for my classmates, but in my experience, we students got into nursing to work with people, not sit in the classroom. The classroom work is very important, but there is always some excitement about the upcoming end of the theory block. Finally, we have a chance to put the new ideas into practice. Of course this is made much more interesting by the Universities policy of not telling us where we are to go until the last moment.

My placements have been varied. The first year saw me placed on a ward for older people with functional mental health problems. Next saw me spend six weeks working as a district nurse. The final six weeks were broken up into three. Two weeks in a medical ward, two weeks in a maternity unit and two weeks in a school. Year two saw a placement in an acute psychiatric ward, another ward for older people with functional mental health problems and a placement in rehabilitation for severe and enduring mental health problems. Year three saw me placed in a community mental health team, working as a CPN. My second placement was in a specialist mother and baby unit set up for mothers of children up to one year old suffering with mental health problems. And my final placement brought me here, to the Caswell Clinic.

It is true that not all students (myself included) have a background in mental health, but as you can see from the above list, by the time any student nurse comes onto your ward and introduces her/himself to you we have been working as nurses for well over two and a half years, with most of this time spent in psychiatry. I tell you this so that you may get a clearer picture of what your "student " has been through and what they have experienced before they get to your ward.

It would be best to explain here what we are achieving while on placement. We have a number of objectives. The priority, of course is to continue to nurse in a safe and responsible manner. Patient safety, welfare and dignity is, and should always be the priority. Next, the university sets task (known as competencies) for us each year, and these must all be achieved under nursing supervision before a student can pass. These tasks could be something as simple as changing a dressing in the first year, to understanding the patient needs in the organisation of care in the third year.

Then there is the simple matter of the fact we are there to learn. Nursing is a profession committed to lifelong learning. As a student we are allocated a mentor whose role is to guide us to the knowledge, skills and attitude we need to work in the placement, and to aid us in completing our necessary paperwork.

While we are on a placement the universities still make demands on students. Assignments, exams, a dissertation; these things must still be done, and done on top of the full working week, including nights and weekends we are expected to complete. And of course we students are not paid a wage, just a small bursary. No one gets into nursing for the money.

Finally, the most rewarding part of being a student nurse is working with patients. I am sure some people are truly sick of the new student coming onto the ward. I think it must feel like we use you to "practice " nursing. I would like to say for my part, we are never practicing. We are nursing. I hope this helps you to understand the "student " a little better.

By: Warren Lodge – Student Nurse