Clinical placements

Bringing a smile to help in the tough times

Caring for a young teenager reminded children's nursing student Harriet Pollard why taking care of the emotional well-being of children and young people is equally as important as addressing their physical health needs.

Caring for a young teenager reminded children's nursing student Harriet Pollard why taking care of the emotional well-being of children and young people is equally as important as addressing their physical health needs

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Friendly faces and warm smiles can make a difference. Picture: Science Photo Library

At the start of my second year of training I was working on a cardiac ward where I helped to care for a young teen who was awaiting surgery. 

I had been looking after the patient, who I will call Max, for a few weeks. When I went to see him one day at the start of my shift he didn't seem quite himself, despite the night staff saying in the handover that he had had a good night and was settled. 

Max was curled up on the bed under the covers in the darkness. When I asked how he was feeling, he said he wasn’t in any pain. As nursing students, we are trained to clinically assess and treat patients under guidance and supervision from our mentors, but our role is to deliver person-centred care, and I wanted to know how Max was feeling emotionally as well as physically. 

Learning opportunity

Although I never want to miss clinical learning opportunities, I quickly realised there was a learning opportunity right in front of me – something was upsetting Max and I wanted to know what it was so I could try and help. His problem may not have been a clinical one, but it was just as important. 

After sitting with him for a while, Max turned to me and said: ‘I want to play and go to school like my friends.’ Realising I could do something about it, I got some toys from the playroom and put his radio on, and arranged for him to attend the hospital school. 

When I saw him later, he gave me a high five. The big smile on his face made me realise how the little things really can make a huge difference.

Times of distress

Children’s nursing is about putting the child and their family first, to help ensure they have the best possible experience in a difficult situation. A lot of our training focuses on the clinical aspects of the job, providing us with the skills and knowledge to become competent, safe practitioners. But friendly faces, warm smiles and a hand to hold in tough times are just as important. 

Caring for Max made it very clear to me that the interactions we have with children and families are vital during times of great distress. Getting to know what a child’s favourite colour or song is, and what they like to do at the weekend, is just as important as ensuring wounds are clean, dressings have been changed and urine output is adequate. 

Max’s mum wrote to the dean of my university to congratulate me on my work with her son. I was touched by this, as it showed how important it is to make sure a child feels safe and happy. Gaining the trust of a child, and his or her parents, makes a huge difference to care delivery. This highlights how nursing is about putting patients and their families first, and thinking about what you can do to make their day that little bit better.


harrietHarriet Pollard is a second-year children’s nursing student at King’s College London

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