Clinical placements

What I learned from shadowing the specialists

A student’s experience of shadowing a clinical nurse specialist and a senior research nurse

A student reflects on the experience of shadowing a clinical nurse specialist and a senior research nurse

Picture: iStock

I recently completed my final placement of my second year of training and had already developed a keen interest in oncology and palliative care.

So I was delighted by my placement allocation at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre. It included the opportunity to shadow a clinical nurse specialist and senior research nurse at the centre, part of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Clinical nurse specialist 

I spent an afternoon sitting in on patient consultations with upper gastrointestinal advanced clinical nurse specialist (CNS) Sarah-Jane Thomson, an inspirational nurse who has worked extremely hard to reach her position. 

As an advanced CNS, she is the care coordinator and key link worker between the patient and the rest of the multidisciplinary team, and is also a nurse prescriber. Her role comes with a great deal of responsibility and autonomy, which she said helped draw her to the position. 

During consultations, Sarah-Jane would review the patients, finding out how they were coping, if they were symptomatic or had any complaints, and check their toxicity levels following chemotherapy. 

Based on these findings, she would either prescribe another dose of their chemotherapy regime, consider altering the dose or change the regime entirely. 

‘That therapeutic touch was what the patient needed at that moment’

It was impressive watching a nurse work at this advanced clinical level, with the autonomy to make these kinds of decisions. But Sarah-Jane always maintained her core nursing skills; she was kind, caring and compassionate, and had built solid, trusting therapeutic relationships with her patients. 

Sarah-Jane would sit beside a patient and hold their hand when a consultant was breaking bad news. That therapeutic touch was what the patient needed at that moment, and Sarah-Jane knew this. I found it profoundly moving.

RELATED: Kindness is tangible in a mental health crisis

She had also established great relationships with the consultants she worked alongside – they relied on and trusted each other implicitly. This reminded me how important it is to maintain strong relationships within multidisciplinary teams, and how vital interprofessional working is to quality patient care.  

Sarah-Jane also stressed the importance of understanding pathophysiology and pharmacology, and I will continue to develop my knowledge in this area throughout my studies and career. I am incredibly grateful to her for taking the time to talk through her role with me and let me observe her in clinical practice. 

Insight into the skills required

I was also fortunate enough to spend a morning accompanying senior research nurse Kirsteen Stuart, who I saw several times while working in outpatient department clinics.

While I was with her, she met with nine patients who were taking part in five different clinical research trials, all of which had a lot of preparatory work and paperwork attached to them. 

The patients had to undergo various tests – including blood work, observations and electrocardiograms (ECGs) – and Kirsteen had a folder with all the different trial guidelines and patient documentation. All I could think was: how does she remember all this information, and what goes with what? 

It was daunting, yet she was unfazed, and it soon became apparent how crucial preparation is to the role, which also requires exceptional organisational and time management skills. 

These skills will be vital in my future practice and the rest of my training, especially when I undertake a management placement in my final year. They will also help me manage my academic work and deadlines.

‘She explained how important it is to see the whole picture, not just the research, and remember that those taking part in trials are being generous with their time’

As a research nurse, a lot of Kirsteen’s role involves collecting data, but she also brings so much nursing knowledge to the position. She advocates for her patients at all times, and has excellent communication skills. 

She explained how important it is to see the whole picture, not just the research, and to remember that the people taking part in the trials are being incredibly generous with their time. It has made me view those involved in the trials as heroes, advancing medicine for generations to come. 

RELATED: The valuable contribution of clinical research nurses

Shadowing these two outstanding nurses has given me a lot to reflect on. It has expanded my learning and opened my eyes to potential career options, making me aware of areas I may eventually like to specialise in. 

But what these experiences taught me most of all is how important it is to continue to develop my fundamental nursing skills, and focus on becoming the best nurse I can be. 


Craig Davidson is a second-year nursing student and school officer at Glasgow Caledonian University and one of the Scottish members of the RCN UK students committee

This article is for subscribers only