Nursing studies

As a mature nursing student, I came close to giving up in my first term – but now I’m ready to embrace the challenge

I now know juggling demands of independent learning, clinical placements and family life is hard, but worth it

I now know juggling demands of independent learning, clinical placements and family life is hard, but worth it


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I started my children’s nursing degree in September, and being a full-time university student aged almost 46 has certainly been a challenge.

I don’t seem to have stopped worrying. How am I going to cope with the workload while looking after my four-year-old? How am I going to fit in at university where everyone seems much younger than me? How will we make ends meet on one income? And how am I going to keep up with the pressure when my health is under the attack of perimenopausal symptoms?

At first, I felt overwhelmed by the demands of my nursing degree

Although I was looking forward to this new chapter in my life, I was quite apprehensive, a feeling that was exacerbated during the first few weeks of the course; it was all a bit overwhelming and I had trouble keeping up with the fast pace. 

‘In my previous student days I had unlimited free time, lots of brain cells and tonnes of energy’

I was prepared for a heavy workload, but I hadn’t anticipated the limited amount of time I would have to process it all. With the introduction of each module, never-ending reading lists appeared.

In addition to lectures, we were supposed to read at least one day a week as part of our independent learning. But with three modules to complete and hardly any days off, this proved rather difficult.

I have done a lot of studying before, but in my previous student days I had unlimited free time, lots of brain cells and tonnes of energy. Now, after attending lectures, doing the school runs and sorting out the household, it is eight o’clock before I even get the chance to sit down.

Preregistration nursing curriculum’s increased emphasis on mental health 

Starting a nursing degree this year is also quite stressful because of the new approach to preregistration education; we are the first set of students to be trained under the new standards from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which aim to provide every student with a greater understanding across all four fields of nursing practice.

‘At least I have a great support network – it’s hard for parents to manage hectic schedules for three years’

Students train alongside each other – which is great because we get to share our learning and experiences as a whole-year group – and there is an increased focus on mental health. Many of my lectures so far have included mental health aspects, with parity between physical and mental health rightly becoming the focus of our future nursing care. 

The new curriculum also includes changes to the course structure, with new assessments, modules and practice assessment documents, and mentors and sign-off mentors replaced by practice supervisors, practice assessors and academic assessors.

There is no longer an objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) in the first year, which is a relief, but we will be assessed on managing an episode of care (including medications) in a placement setting.

I am a bit nervous about this – I hate exams and am worried I will find it difficult to perform under exam conditions in a ward setting with real service users.

How to survive your first term – my 6 top tips 

  • Know your anatomy and physiology Learning the basics before you start will save you a lot of time later
  • Familiarise yourself with the NMC Standards of proficiency for future nurses Annexe A and B are particularly useful as they list the skills newly registered nurses must be able to demonstrate
  • Read up on your subject Nursing journals and articles relevant to your chosen field will help ensure you are up to date with developments and give you a good idea of what academic writing involves
  • Organise your life and finances from the start Ask your university about financial support and check Student Finance England and the NHS Learning Support Fund to see if you are eligible for assistance
  • Build a good support network As well as having people to lean on if the going gets tough, this is particularly beneficial if you need childcare – you will do a lot of unsocial hours on placement
  • Enjoy yourself and don’t stress too much Take it one step at a time and ask for help straight away if you are struggling. No one wants you to fail so ask for support if you need it… and don’t forget to have fun

 

As a mum, I’m worrying about the logistics of being on placement for the next three summers

But the most challenging change to the course structure for me will be a ten-week placement every summer for the next three years.

‘I have done a degree and postgraduate diplomas, but this time I feel I am finally learning something worth knowing’

With a school-aged child, this could be problematic logistically, and had I known about it well in advance I may have dropped out of the course.

Although university hours are usually nine to five, placement hours extend well beyond breakfast and after-school clubs. But I am lucky to have a great support network around me, which I will need to call upon to help cover half-terms, inset days and sick days.

‘I am yet to find a lecture that hasn’t interested me’

It’s hard for parents to manage hectic schedules for three years, especially single parents. I feel guilty enough that my daughter won’t see me for a few days when I am on placement, but at least I know she has her father with her.

We are taught the basics but much depends on pursuing our own enquiry-based learning

A positive aspect of the new structure is that assignment deadlines have been moved so that they don’t overlap with placements. This way we can concentrate on our academic work or clinical placement without stressing about the other. 

One of the most important things I have learned as I have progressed through the first semester is that we have to be guided by our own professional interest and curiosity; we are given the basics in lectures, but it is then up to us to find out more. I enjoy enquiry-based learning so am looking forward to more of this as I go through the course.

I enjoy both theoretical and practical learning

I have done various courses before, including a degree and postgraduate diplomas, but this time I feel I am finally learning something worth knowing. Everything we have been taught so far is fascinating and I am yet to find a lecture that hasn’t interested me.

I have enjoyed the theoretical and practical sessions, and although I may not be very good at many of the practical skills yet, I look forward to becoming more competent as I go through my training. 

At the start of the course, I was close to giving up, but then things started to calm down and everything made more sense. I start my first placement soon and am excited to see what this brings.

My first term as a nursing student has not been plain sailing, but I know now I am in the right place and am ready to embrace the challenge.


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

@HuntleyLenka

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