Here are my collection of top tips for your first placement, based on my own experience:
- Visit your placement before starting if possible, it gives you a chance to check how long it will take you to get there and what the parking options are if needed. You can also meet some members of the team and be shown around the ward. I find a quick pre-placement visit helps to stop first day nerves.
- Contact your placement and ask if there is anything specific that you need to research before starting.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you want to know how to do something or why your mentor is doing something, ask! That is what they are there for and should be happy to answer any questions you have.
- Organise time with your mentor to go through your placement paperwork and remember to get your hours signed after every shift.
- Make a note of any terms on the handover sheet or in the care plans that you do not understand and check them with your mentor when you get chance. There are often abbreviations on a handover sheet, the first time I looked at one I thought half of it was in a different language!
- Spend time with the HCAs, they know so much about the ward routine and the patients.
- Organise insight visits throughout your time there. I am on a rehab ward in a community hospital so I have spent time with the OTs and physios. I plan to spend time with the district nurses and ANP as well. You can arrange insight visits that are relevant to your placement and these help you to understand the roles within the MDT.
- Ask to sit in MDT meetings, care planning meetings or other meetings on the ward. Accompany the doctor on their rounds. All these things give you an insight into how the whole ward team work together to provide care for the patients.
- Take a packed lunch. You may be in a busy area or may not know what the catering options are at your placement, having your lunch with you takes away the stress of spending your break finding something to eat.
- Your uniform is a reflection on you and the university so always wear a clean, ironed uniform and adhere to your university’s uniform policy regarding hair, shoes, nails etc.
- Try not to go into placement with high expectations, you may spend a few days with the HCAs or observing your mentor for weeks before you start practicing new skills.
- If a patient asks you a question you do not know the answer to, it is ok to say that you do not know but that you will find someone who does know the answer. Patients respect the fact you are honest enough to admit you do not know and will appreciate it when you return with the correct answer for them. This also helps to build your own knowledge.
- Remember to stay hydrated! It is easy to forget to look after your own fluid intake when you are monitoring patients or busy with your mentor but try to keep drinking throughout the day whenever there is an opportunity.
- Turn up on time and if you will be late, give your placement a quick ring to let them know. Also adhere to any absence policies at your university if you need time off.
- There will be common medications that are used on your placement, try to make a note of these or ask your mentor if there is a list they can provide. It is handy to research these and to know what they are used for/a few common side effects.
- Have a little notepad in your pocket to note down anything you will need to research later or terms you don’t understand to ask your mentor.
- It is ok to feel out of place or overwhelmed. Speak to your mentor or your personal tutor if you are feeling this, they will help in any way they can.
- Spend any time you can interacting with patients, they will often be experts in their own condition and you can learn so much by spending a few minutes with a patient. This also helps to build your confidence and develop your communication skills.
- Reflect often. Every experience is a learning opportunity and by reflecting on situations you can see what could be improved upon for the next time or what was done correctly the first time.
- Do not worry if you don’t have any previous care experience, you will develop the skills over time and it can often be beneficial to go in with no experience as you have no preconceived ideas of how things are/should be done.
- If you do have care experience, discuss this with your mentor and utilise your existing skills whilst on the placement. However, be aware that some of the practices used within the hospital may differ to those used in care homes or community care if this is where you have gained your experience. Basic care skills are very transferable though.
- Try not to compare your experiences with those of your cohort, I had days where it hadn’t been a good day and seeing other people really enjoying their placements made me very jealous. Other times, it was me having a brilliant day and others feeling down. It’s good to have their support but remember everyone has their own experiences and good/bad days.
- Check with your university what you are allowed to do, for example some universities do not allow students to test blood sugar levels even if you have had the training in your employment/previous experience.
- Remember you are allowed to say no if you do not feel comfortable trying a new skill. It is perfectly fine to observe your mentor until you do feel comfortable to give it a go!
- Enjoy your days off, even if it means staying in your pyjamas and binge watching tv you have missed!
- Remember that it is your first placement. Your mentor will not expect you to know or be able to do everything. Take every opportunity to learn and get involved wherever possible. Show a willingness to learn, enthusiasm and respect for the ward and you cannot go wrong 🙂
Let me know if you have any more and where your first placements are!