Debs CooperDebs Cooper, Nursing student

Coming to uni to be a student nurse, I knew that half of my time was going to be spent on placement. As a group of students, we all talked about our fears and excitement about placement in equal measure. The day the allocations reports for our first placement were released was so exciting for all my fellow first years and I. As we chatted about where we were going to (and trying to find out if there was going to be a friendly face there to help us feel at home), there was most definitely a buzz in the air.

As my placement was going to be starting straight after the Christmas holidays (which I would be spending back home in Yorkshire), I arranged to go and have a look around my ward a few weeks beforehand. I had been allocated to a ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, and when I first walked up the main entrance I was slightly overwhelmed. If I’m totally honest the only thought running through my mind was “oh my gosh I’m going to get so lost!”. The hospital looked HUGE! But thankfully the layout of the wards was simple enough that I was able to find my way no problems. Once I got to the ward, I introduced myself to the nurse in charge and was given a very nice tour by one of the healthcare assistants. Having been given the name of my mentors and told when my first shift was going to be, I left the hospital even more eager to don my uniform and get stuck in to my placement.

That first shift was soon upon me! I don’t think it would be too much of an exaggeration to say it felt as if I had pterodactyls flying around in my stomach rather than butterflies. I put on my bright, crisp new BCU uniform and made sure I arrived in plenty of time for my 7.30am start. The first day was an utter whirlwind and it felt like I did not stop, mostly because I was wandering back and forth trying to find something that I’d already been shown the location of half a dozen times. Thankfully the staff on the ward were so very welcoming and helpful and my mentor was incredibly patient with me. Towards the end of that first shift she invited me to observe her on the teatime medication round, just to get a feel for what was done. I finished that first shift completely worn out and a little overwhelmed, but my dominant emotion was happiness! I’d learnt so much even in that first 13 hours and I loved every minute of it!

The rest of my placement just seemed to get better and better. Later in the first week my ward was visited by one of the Practice Placement Managers (PPMs) for the hospital. She made sure I was settling in ok and gave me some information on the upcoming education events they were running for the student nurses. Over the course of my placement I took the most of all those opportunities and attended six different teaching events on topics ranging from mental health awareness to the latest Office training. All these chances to learn and add to my knowledge base strengthened the practical experience I was gaining whilst working with the ward staff.

I was soon getting stuck into the routine of the ward and found myself doing medication rounds with my mentor rather than just observing. Any time there was something interesting going on in the ward, or a job that my mentor thought would be good for me to get some practice at, I was allowed and encouraged to get ‘stuck in’. At the same time I felt completely comfortable to be able to say to my mentors “I’ve not come across this before” or “I don’t know the answer” and they would teach me those news skills or help me access the right sources of information.

My mentors encouraged me to ask so many questions not only of them but also of the other staff who worked on the ward. I spoke to the physiotherapists, occupational therapists, doctors and dieticians who were working as part of the ward team so that I could better understand their roles and the decisions that were being made. I was also able to arrange to spend days with the speech and language therapists and the diabetic specialist nurses to help see in more detail how important their efforts are to the care of the patients on the ward. Another brilliant learning opportunity was going down to theatres and observing an operation for a patient I’d been taking care of on the ward.

At the end of nine weeks on placement I felt like a proper student nurse. Not only had I taken part in the day to day care of many different patients but I felt like I’d been able to make a difference in their hospital experience. I was one step closer to becoming a qualified nurse and I couldn’t be more excited to take the next leaps forward!

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