Student Life: One Nursing Student’s Perspective

Katie O’Sullivan @KatieOS25760094

4th Year Nursing Student, Bachelor of Children’s and General Nursing, Dublin City University

What is your main role?

My main role as a student nurse is to learn both the theoretical and clinical aspects of nursing.  Theoretical input helps prepare us for clinical placements, which will vary widely throughout the 4 years, meaning we are exposed to lots of different areas of nursing and types of nursing. My role initially as a supernumerary nursing student, is to assist nurses in their duties within my own scope of practice and learn new skills, master other skills and role model excellent nursing practice. I need to have a deep understanding of the theoretical aspect of the clinical setting, to help me understand the different illnesses, diseases and conditions I see in the clinical environment.  The theory and academic input is vital to make sure all my own knowledge is up to date and best evidence to ensure best practice. When studying nursing in Ireland, the theory and practice complement each other, in other words, a period of theory is followed by a clinical placement. It is important to balance them at the same time, giving equal time to both, hence the double stressors, which can set us apart from other university students. This difference has become so more obvious since COVID. This was exacerbated as we tried to balance working on the wards and then adapting to online lectures. One of our assignments was linked to our clinical placement and had to be completed during the placement. I found this very difficult as I was working a 36-hour week in the hospital where Covid-19 was prevalent and this was a really stressful environment.  From learning how to put on PPE correctly, to working in full PPE gear, to ensuring you were caring for all your patients and also learning and then the assignment at the back of your mind.  My days off were used to work on assignments and attend online tutorials, not ideal and also we couldn’t meet classmates in person, so couldn’t ‘decompress’ in our usual way. The impact of COVID -19 has been so profound, we know, so many people have lost loved ones, we saw this first hand. On top of this is has been much lonelier time, as well as a much more stressful for student nurses.  The support you normally have from meeting up in person, discussing the ups and downs of being a student nurse was gone and I really felt it. I don’t think I was alone feeling like that. The clinical staff did their best to support us, organising mindfulness sessions but they too were under pressure. The academic staff too, did their best, and met with us via Zoom to listen to our concerns and tried to offer solutions.  But nothing was ‘normal’, and normal was what we craved.  For some of us we felt like we just needed to get through it- to get to the other side of it.  But we know we have to make sure to mind our heads too, as we can care for others unless we care for ourselves first.

How did you get into your current role?

Initially I decided to study General nursing even though I always wanted to be a midwife. I felt that if I studied General Nursing first, I would have a broader health care background. I was only seventeen years old, starting University, so I felt I had the time to do this. When it came time to apply for specific courses, I applied for the combined Children’s and General Nursing Degree, as I thought it could only benefit, given the expanded knowledge and experience it would provide.  And I then thought I could apply to study Midwifery at Postgraduates level, if that was still my plan.  However, since embarking on my journey and experiencing the variety of clinical placements, I have changed my mind and now hope to work in an Adult Nursing setting, perhaps in the Emergency Department, Theatre or Acute Medicine. Who knows? The world is my oyster!

What would you say are the best and most rewarding parts of being a student nurse?

The best part of my role is applying knowledge and skills that I have learned while in college to the different places I get to experience during my degree.  So when theory meets practice, things really begin to make sense. For example, we complete a pharmacology module where you learn about drugs, how they work and what conditions require what drugs. It wasn’t until I was on the wards and repeatedly seeing these medications being used that their names started to stick in my head and why they were being used. So linking what we learn in theory to practice and it really helps deepen understanding.

I feel a great sense of purpose when I know I have done a good job and I am helping someone who needs my support. A real highlight is if one of the people in my care thanks me and appreciates that I have done it well. It is also really encouraging when the staff nurses and the managers complement my nursing skills as it reminds me and reassures me why I chose to become a nurse.

What advice would you give to those who would like to follow in a similar pathway

I would say to those who want to be a nurse that they shouldn’t be afraid of the physical aspect, as nursing is a very physically demanding role. And don’t be afraid that you have to start at what seems like the bottom- in terms of knowledge and skills, that you will build on both over the years.  Be prepared to start carrying out essential nursing skills first and as you build up knowledge and skills you will have the knowledge and understanding (and confidence!) to perform more complex skills. For example, during the first two years of my programme, I assisted with a patient’s personal hygiene needs, which is very important, and a great opportunity to learn to be a good communicator- a vital ingredient for a good nurse. Since commencing Year 4 of my degree, I still carry out these tasks, but I now get to participate with more complex skills such as assisting with lumbar punctures procedures and/or have more responsibility taking in terms of patient load. Be patient with yourself as it takes time to move from ‘novice to expert’ (Benner, 1984) but it is so worthwhile!

Benner, P. From novice to expert: Excellence and power in clinical nursing practice. Menlo Park, CA:Addison-Wesley; 1984.

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