Newly qualified nurses

Clinical practice educators are vital in helping nurses achieve career goals

Two newly qualified nurses reflect on the advocacy and support they receive to further enhance their nursing skills 
Image shows nurse practice educator Annamma Wilson with newly qualified nurse Lucy Heald

Two newly qualified nurses reflect on the advocacy and support they receive to further enhance their nursing skills

For newly qualified nurse (NQN) Lucy Heald, the intervention of her practice educator helped her return to a specialism where she sees her future career.

Ms Heald is on the final stage of an 18-month rotational programme for NQNs at the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust in London. After spending the first

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Two newly qualified nurses reflect on the advocacy and support they receive to further enhance their nursing skills 


Clinical practice educator Annamma Wilson (left) guides newly qualified nurse Lucy Heald
at London’s Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: Nathan Clarke 

For newly qualified nurse (NQN) Lucy Heald, the intervention of her practice educator helped her return to a specialism where she sees her future career.

Ms Heald is on the final stage of an 18-month rotational programme for NQNs at the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust in London. After spending the first six months in respiratory care, she was keen to return to the specialty to further enhance her skills by working with high dependency patients.

Practice educator instrumental in making it happen

But without support from practice educator Annamma Wilson, she may not have been able to achieve this goal. ‘She was instrumental in making it happen and I’m happy I was able to come back,’ says Ms Heald.

‘As students, they’ve always had someone overlooking their work. But when they are newly qualified, it can feel overwhelming to feel responsible for everything’

Annamma Wilson, practice educator, Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust


Lucy Heald on practice educator Annamma Wilson: ‘She doesn’t just show you how to do
something, she explains the theory and evidence base behind it.’ Picture: Nathan Clarke

When she failed one of her clinical skills tests at the first sitting, Ms Wilson was also on hand to help.

‘She came up to the ward and helped me improve my skills, so I was able to become more confident quite quickly,’ says Ms Heald.

‘She doesn’t just show you how to do something, she explains the theory and evidence base behind it.’ 

As one of two practice educators within respiratory care, Ms Wilson shares responsibility for more than 90 nurses, plus nursing students. For the first two weeks at least, NQNs are supernumerary.

‘As students, they’ve always had someone overlooking their work. But when they are newly qualified, it can feel overwhelming to feel responsible for everything,’ says Ms Wilson.

‘There is also a lot of training to get up and running, with different competences for each clinical area.’

Bridge between clinical mentor and manager 

Reassuring those who are newly qualified that they are doing well is important.

‘We do a lot of one-to-one talking,’ says Ms Wilson. ‘Whatever problems they’re having, we can help. Sometimes it’s a question of adapting learning to their particular style. We’re a bridge between them, their clinical mentor and manager.’ 

Clinical nurse educator (CNE) Diana Freitas at the Royal Brompton agrees that starting your first post as an NQN can be daunting.


Clinical nurse educator Diana Freitas

‘It’s good to have someone to advocate for you, who you can go to if you need anything, knowing they can give you support,’ she says.  

For the last three years, she has been working with NQNs who have joined the trust’s paediatric intensive care unit (PICU), where they have developed a specific programme to help them settle in.

This starts with three weeks in the classroom, learning about cardiac, respiratory, liver and renal issues. ‘It’s a steep learning curve at the beginning,’ admits Ms Freitas. ‘It can be a fast-paced and stressful environment.’

Delicate balancing act

When the NQNs then join the unit, they are supernumerary for the first six to eight weeks. During this time, CNEs will be on hand to offer support, although it’s a delicate balancing act.

‘We don’t want to be on top of them so they feel they can’t do anything,’ says Ms Freitas. ‘But we do ad hoc teaching sessions and they can come to us anytime they need.’

‘The observational shifts helped me to understand what was happening and be slowly introduced before I was expected to do anything’

Eilidh Oliver, newly qualified children’s nurse, Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust

The team has recognised that NQNs can sometimes plateau after around six months.


Newly qualified nurse Eilidh Oliver

‘They can feel they need more of a challenge,’ says Ms Freitas. ‘So we always hold a study day at this point, with lectures and topics to help them feel they’re still learning.’ This is one of many training and study days held throughout their first year.

Ms Freitas is working with NQN Eilidh Oliver, who qualified as a children’s nurse in February at the University of Southampton and is now doing her 12-month preceptorship, based on the PICU. 

‘The observational shifts helped me to understand what was happening and be slowly introduced before I was expected to do anything,’ she says. ‘Having the time at the beginning to make sure I had the theoretical knowledge was important.’

Introducing Ms Oliver to her new colleagues, explaining what she was trained to do, what she was learning and how they could support her, was also useful. ‘Diana has been of enormous value, particularly in the early weeks,’ she says.

Not all plain sailing

Being able to drop into her office with any questions also helped. ‘Now she is making sure that everything is still good and I’m getting out of it what I was hoping. I think it’s going better than I’d anticipated,’ she says.  

But it’s not been all plain sailing. ‘Around four months in, I had a blip,’ Ms Oliver recalls.

‘It can all get a bit overwhelming and you start to question whether it’s working.’

Alongside starting out on her nursing career, among her greatest challenges has been moving to a new city, away from her family, but the team acknowledged the added pressure she was under.

‘They saw it from the beginning, rather than pretending there wasn’t anything outside work that could be difficult,’ says Ms Oliver.

‘When we were doing a study day, and they could see I was tired, they would stop half-an-hour early and pick things up again the next day.

‘The best advice Diana has given me is don’t be too hard on yourself – that’s the big one.’


Lynne Pearce is a health journalist

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