Clinical placements

My first placement: it can be daunting, but a rich learning experience too

A first-year nursing student on what makes a rewarding clinical placement
nursing student on community placement

A first-year nursing student reflects on what makes a rewarding clinical placement

Starting the first placement of your nursing degree can be a big challenge, especially if you havent had much healthcare experience.

After months of theory and simulation suites, you are eager to go into clinical practice but leaving the comfort zone of the classroom and the safety net of your tutors and fellow students can feel daunting. The prospect of being let loose on real patients can make you feel anxious.

Our placements were announced at the end of November last year. After the initial excitement or discontent for those destined to spend hours on the road and precious pounds from their student wallets we quickly forgot. Our minds were on our upcoming

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A first-year nursing student reflects on what makes a rewarding clinical placement


Approach your first placement with enthuasiasm and you’re likely to find it rewarding Picture: John Houlihan

Starting the first placement of your nursing degree can be a big challenge, especially if you haven’t had much healthcare experience.

After months of theory and simulation suites, you are eager to go into clinical practice but leaving the comfort zone of the classroom and the safety net of your tutors and fellow students can feel daunting. The prospect of being let loose on ‘real patients’ can make you feel anxious.

Our placements were announced at the end of November last year. After the initial excitement – or discontent for those destined to spend hours on the road and precious pounds from their student wallets – we quickly forgot. Our minds were on our upcoming first assignment and long-awaited Christmas break.

The team in my first placement were welcoming, which made me feel reassured

But once Christmas was over, I started to feel very nervous. As a first-year children’s nursing student, I had to have my first placement in the community, either with health visitors or school nurses. I was allocated a health visiting team in a neighbouring town so travel-wise, I was very lucky.

‘In health visiting you see new lives taking off, parents in awe of their beautiful babies… but health visitors also deal with child abuse and domestic violence’

My first placement was eight weeks, with two weeks in a nursery so I could observe healthy child development. The health visiting team I was allocated were very friendly and welcoming and I immediately felt at home.

I met my practice supervisor before starting the placement. She was kind, warm and professional, so I knew didn’t have to worry. Being nervous on the first day of your first placement is normal, but that initial visit helped keep my anxiety at bay.

I was observing best practice – and health visiting is a great place to start practice learning

Health visiting was the perfect way to start my practice learning. Health visitors come from a variety of backgrounds and specialities and have a lot of knowledge to offer a first-year nursing student.

Initially, when accompanying the health visitors or community nursery nurses on their home visits, I was mostly observing and learning about best practice.

‘All my placement experiences were invaluable in my understanding of multiprofessional team working and gave me an interesting insight into other fields of practice’

Once I felt more confident, I started weighing infants, entering information on child growth charts and giving the occasional piece of advice. Five years ago as a new mum, I was on the receiving end of health visiting so seeing a newborn made me quite emotional.

Health visiting can be a lovely job; you see new lives taking off, parents in awe of their beautiful babies and children making progress in their development. But health visitors also have less joyful issues to deal with, such as safeguarding, child abuse and domestic violence.

Opportunities to learn outside the main placement activity

During our placements, we are encouraged to arrange learning opportunities outside of our main placement area. I arranged to spend a day at two GP practices and an antenatal community midwife clinic. I also spent time with child and adolescent mental health services and shadowed a speech and language therapy practitioner on two school visits. 

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All these experiences were invaluable in my understanding of multi-professional team working and gave me an interesting insight into other fields of practice.

My eight-week placement was hugely productive. As well as gaining knowledge about health visiting, child development and team working, I completed most of my proficiencies for my practice assessment as well as my formative and summative episodes of care.

How to get the most out of your first placement
 

Get to know the placement before you start Contact the team and arrange a pre-placement visit, meet your supervisor and agree your initial shifts. Have a test drive and find out where to park or where the closest bus stop or train station is if using public transport

 

Always be punctual and professional Try to accommodate the hours and shifts they need you to do. Having to arrange childcare accordingly can be a nightmare and occasionally children get sick. But remember you are only there for a few months or weeks and you need a certain number of hours in practice

 

Show interest and commitment Always ask questions, no matter how silly they may seem. Be inquisitive and keen to learn, read and research and don’t be afraid to voice your reflections and observations. Be proactive in your learning and embrace the opportunities

 

Keep a reflective diary Try and write an entry every day throughout your placement. This will help you see how much you have learned and what you have encountered but remember to maintain patient confidentiality

 

Write a thank you card at the end of the placement This will show your appreciation for the time and effort the team have put into your learning. Offering to write feedback for revalidation is also a great way of showing your gratitude

 

Navigating the new NMC education standards was a challenge, but we embraced them

The new Nursing and Midwifery Council standards for pre-registration education came into force last September, and I was the first student the team had taken with a new practice document. This was a bit of a challenge for my supervisor and assessor, but we all embraced it and found a way to do it. Your first year of training is all about participating in care and many proficiencies can be achieved by demonstrating your knowledge in a professional discussion.

I was anxious about starting my first placement, but I didn’t need to be. I enjoyed it, learned a lot, and met true nursing professionals. Although I will be nervous when I start my second placement, I feel much more confident and positive about my new career as a children’s nurse.


Lenka Huntley is a first-year children's nursing student at the University of Brighton 

@HuntleyLenka

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