I’m just starting second year and thought now would be the perfect time to describe what being a student nurse is really like. Being a student nurse is a mixture of emotions and achievements, I’ve had amazing days and some days that were not so good. But I have survived year 1 of 3! Have a read of the following realities that I have discovered during my first year.
You won’t believe people when they tell you it’s hard work.
Now I don’t want to put anyone off but this degree is hard work. There’s no other way to describe it. That’s not me saying it is more work than any other degree, I have only experienced one so can only comment on this one. You will have assignments to complete and exams to revise for, it’s easy to get caught up in university and placements then before you know it, it’s the week of the deadline and you haven’t even started. During placement you will be doing 37.5 hours at least, with assignment work on top. Include any extra paid work you have to do around uni/placement to live and any extra reading/research for placement and you suddenly have very few hours of free time for yourself.
You will be expected to work shifts covering 24/7 care. You will be doing nights, long days (12.5 or 14 hour shifts in some placement areas) and you will be expected to do weekends. There are very few placement areas that are Mon-Fri 9-5 so if you had this idea in your head, forget about it now. I’ve had 3 placements up to now and none of them have been 9-5. Get a good pair of shoes because you will be on your feet a lot.
Social life? Remind me what that is again.
Some people may disagree with me here but you will struggle to find time to have a social life. I have been to events and nights out in my first year don’t get me wrong, but it has been few and far between. And every time I have felt guilty that I’m not at home doing something towards university work. Friends that are not on the same degree or at university may not understand how busy you are and that you can’t see them for weeks on end, I’ve lost touch with a few friends because they don’t understand that you really cannot see them for a few weeks because you’re snowed under and that it’s not just an excuse.
Even if you have healthcare experience, you will relearn the core care skills on placement.
Don’t feel disheartened if you start your first placement and you are working with the HCAs for a few weeks. Your mentors will expect you to learn the core care skills when you start your placement, even if you have years and years of care experience. You can read my previous blog on the phrase “too posh to wash” here. You probably won’t be giving out medications or doing ‘nursey’ things for a while.
You will have doubts.
There will be days where you wonder why you are doing this. I had a fantastic first year but I still had plenty of days where I thought about quitting and going back to full time work. These were silly moments and I wouldn’t have quit, but you will find out who you can rely on to have a proper rant to and who will talk some sense into you on these occasions. Your support network will become a lifeline so keep a good one around you.
You may struggle financially.
My bursary and maintenance loan cover my rent and my diesel to uni/placement. I have to work outside of the degree because I wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise. I try not to work much when I’m on placement but this means I have to work a lot during uni weeks and annual leave weeks. The current student finance situation may be more positive but there have been months where I haven’t had money left over after bills/diesel. It will all be worth it in the end! If you can work around the degree, try to save a little bit each month to cover you in case there are months where deadlines are due or placement is busy and you can’t fit any shifts in. Try to join the bank or NHSP at your local hospital as you can then pick and choose shifts around your availability, Sunday shifts and nights are the best paid so you could do a few of these a month.
Prepare to be emotionally challenged.
There will be days where you are absolutely elated, and days where you are so worn down you cry at the tiniest thing. You will experience many firsts throughout your training, some positive and some negative but each one will be a learning curve. You will experience end of life care and the death of a patient. You may experience having to be involved in CPR. If you encounter situations that overwhelm you or challenge you emotionally, your mentors are there for support. You can also talk to your peers and university support teams. It’s ok to be upset and overwhelmed, these are natural human emotions so don’t be afraid to show them when appropriate.
You are supernumerary.
Please remember that you are not counted in the staffing numbers. If someone rings in sick or is moved to another ward, you are not there to cover for them. Yes everyone gets involved with care and the tasks on the ward, but you should never be used to replace a staff member that isn’t there. You are within your rights to speak to someone if you feel you are being used within the numbers and not as a supernumerary student. Most placement areas are fantastic and won’t pose this issue.
Being a student nurse is often fantastic. I have experienced so much within my first year and I’m excited to see what second year brings. Time really does fly and imagine how good you’ll be feeling at the end of year 3 when you are qualified and waiting for your pin to arrive to start as a NQN. If you do experience times when you are struggling, please remember to talk to someone about it. Don’t bottle those feelings up as you are not the only one feeling that way.