What I wish I knew before I started my nursing programme

Claire Carmichael, Birmingham City University, Adult Nursing Year 3, @C_Carmichael83
Julie Dorrian, Queen’s University Belfast, Adult Nursing Year 1, @juliedorrian2
Aneica Duffy, Queen’s University Belfast, Adult Nursing Year 1 , @AneicaD
Natlie Elliott Glasgow Caledonian University, Adult, Year 1, @Natalie_StN
Graeme Gentles, Abertay University, Mental Health, Year 3, @GraemeGentles78
Angharad Jones, University of South Wales, Mental Health, Year 3, @arrjones1
Molly Kiltie, De Montfort University, Leicester mental health nursing, year 2 @mollykiltie
Alice Lightowlers, Plymouth University, Adult Nursing, soon to be Year 1, @aliceniamh
Jessica Parkhouse, Kingston University London, Adult Nursing, Year 3 @Jess_ Parkhouse
Harry Robson, Coventry University, Adult Nurse, Year 1, @harryrobson24
Amelia Swift, Senior Lecturer in Nursing, University of Birmingham, @nurseswift
Shaun Williams, Keele University, Learning Disability Year 2 @Shaun_LDNurse

It’s almost that time of year when many Universities welcome their new cohorts of nursing students. Many will have spent the summer preparing and wondering what is to come. We have gathered together a group of experts who can tell you just what to expect.

This blog will be followed by a twitter chat on Wednesday 11 September. To join a twitter chat you need a twitter account. At 8pm login to twitter and follow the conversation by searching for #ebnjc. Please add #ebnjc to all your tweets.

First up: advice from a soon-to-be-student…

With the start of my first year as a student nurse 1 month and 9 days away, the excitement has been growing by the second, as have the nerves! Here are some bits of advice from one new student nurse to another:

Talk to people: Having already studied a degree in Business at Plymouth University, my nervousness has not been around the everyday things like ‘how do I get here or there?’; as a mature student, my worries are mainly financial and practical such as ‘can I afford to contribute to our bills or will my fiance feel I’m a financial burden’ or ‘will I have a life outside of my studies and placement, will I have enough time for my family?’. To anyone with similar worries, it is so valuable to talk to people, whether that’s on Twitter, your family, your peers, your tutors or support services at university – just talk your feelings through and you will get support and guidance.

Without the aforementioned people I would have probably not applied to follow my dream (again!), finding out my dream was still possible felt like a second chance and one I knew I had to take. Embrace a change of path and all the things that come with it.

Engage with fellow/former students: Thanks to the Twitter community I have had lots of book recommendations and other advice such as what stationery will be useful and the importance of organisation! It is reassuring to know that there are people willing to share their experience with you and support you through your journey. I am also the admin for my cohort Facebook group which is a great way to get to know your peers before starting the course and makes that first day a little less daunting.

Don’t be too hard on yourself: there may have days where you feel frustrated that you don’t know things, but no-one is born knowing everything. Learning is so important and will continue throughout your whole life, so embrace what you don’t know and enjoy the journey of learning new things.

Throw yourself in and try everything: I remember when I was considering applying for nursing back in 2015 and I didn’t because I was 19 and afraid to jump in and try new things. I couldn’t imagine myself going on place and practising skills but now, after gaining confidence, I am so eager to get stuck in and give everything a try! Be brave and don’t worry about getting things wrong as you will learn from mistakes.

And it’s great to see that this advice is reflected by advice from people at different stages of their nursing programmes.

(JD) I’m over halfway through 1st year of Adult Nursing in Queens, Belfast. I am loving it. I hope these tips are helpful in a practical sense.
No question is silly. Whether it is in a lecture, tutorial or placement you will want to ask questions you might feel daft asking. Mentors and tutors welcome and encourage this, so speak up.

Make things happen. Plenty of occasions during placement I have shown interest and been able to observe and take part in new experiences. Be intuitive and proactive to gain the most from each placement. This will also improve time management skills.

Lastly from me, I was able, thankfully, to purchase a half-decent laptop and a basic printer. If you can afford to do so, treat yourself. Lecture slide printouts are useful to highlight and annotate in lectures.

[AD] I am a 1st year student nurse;when your hear that time flies from other students believe it, because it really does!!

Make time for yourself- make time to socialise, continue with your hobbies as it can be easily forgotten about. The course can be demanding at times, i still make time to continue with my camogie, so i can release all the stress so i can be as efficient as i can be.

Don’t rush into buying books- I bought books before i started my course, but it soon became clear to me why?? When there is amazing resources in the library and the online library. There’s always students selling books, if you would prefer a hand copy. Every penny helps when your a student.

You can do it- It can be easy to fall into a time when you question yourself ‘can i do this’. Tell yourself, how many people applied for the place at university and all the stages you went through to get here. Maybe like me it took more that once to apply YOU CAN DO IT

[NE] Before I started my nursing degree, I was terrified. I gave up a full time job as an accountant and I am a single mum to three children. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to cope financially and didn’t know what would happen regarding childcare.

The biggest challenges have been getting my placement rota’s in advance and having self-belief that I can be a good nurse. My advice to new students would be keep on top of all university work. It can easily overwhelm you if you leave things to the last minute. Things often take longer than you think, and being organised will allow a buffer for any unexpected events. It also means that you can relax during your placement.

I would also advise understanding what is required in your Ongoing Achievement Record. A lot of mentors are unfamiliar with the paperwork, so before I start in a placement area, I put post-it notes on all the pages that I need completed, mark on it what needs completed and the date it’s due by.


Lastly, I would also encourage nursing students to “say yes” to opportunities- you never know where the path will take you.

[AJ] Whether you have prior experience or not, the nursing degree is an entirely new experience. You may feel overwhelmed and bombarded at first but you adapt, you learn and you will be surprised at just how much information and new skills you develop. Everyone feels nervous and anxious but the trick is to not let this hinder you but to learn to embrace it and let it motivate you. Second year saw me face some of the hardest personal challenges of my life, I never thought I would get through but I passed with a first in all my assessments! This degree will change you as a person in ways you would never expect.

[MK] I am in my second year of my mental health nursing degree at De Montfort University in Leicester. I am classed as a mature student (at the ripe age of 25).
My advice for students starting their nursing journey… make the most of it! You will soon realise how hard you will have to work, and this degree will push you to the limit (as it has for me). Do not be afraid to ask for help. Your university will do as much as they can to help you. You will need to support of family, friends, tutors, and fellow students.

Remember to mingle with your cohort! Join the group chats, get involved in discussions. You are all going to be in this together and I believe that the key to getting through this degree is how strong your support network is. I believe that without my support network I would not have made it this far.

Also, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. If you find yourself avoiding a particular area, force yourself to do it. For me it was talking to new people, or in front of others. Nowadays, after some practice I have no issues with public speaking or speaking out in lectures!
This degree will be one of the hardest, most stressful, yet the most rewarding and proudest thing I have ever done in my life. There is no shame in recognising that, and taking time for yourself, prioritising your own wellbeing and prevent burn out.
I started this degree with some healthcare experience under my belt and after 3 failed attempts to getting accepted to university, I got accepted via clearing and I have not looked back since. Student nurses are a special bunch, you have got this!

(JP) Trust your judgement: You’re in the unique position to be supernumerary, and therefore you’ll be able to tie the loose ends of patient care which can quite easily be missed in the rush of a clinical setting. You’ll likely be able to spend more time with the patients than the nurse and the HCA, and the patients may look to you as their most trusted ally. This makes you the perfect advocate, and if you have more information to give, think something might be perfect for them, or something doesn’t sit right with you, make sure you speak up.

Get 8 hours of sleep: A stressful ward environment will certainly keep you awake, and you might feel like 5-6 hours is enough to survive, but nursing is not about survival. It took me a year and a half to realise how crucial it is to actually make you thrive. You’ll make much fewer mistakes, you’ll have the energy to go the extra mile for someone, you’ll learn so much more, and maybe the under-eye dark circles will begin to disappear – but I’ll keep you updated on that one!

Remain humble: When I began my nursing training, I had an incredibly inflated perception of my skills and held the very realistic goal of becoming the next Florence Nightingale. I promptly realised that nursing was a lot harder than I’d imagined and was knocked off my pedestal – to say the least. Just remember that everybody will have a unique abundance of knowledge to give to you and try to absorb as much of that as possible. Moreover, you’re going to make an array of mistakes, but you’re still learning, it’s the natural order of things, so try to make peace with it! Work hard, and you’ll get to where you want (not that I’m there yet).

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