Nursing studies

Tips for nursing students who are starting their studies

Nursing professor Jan Draper welcomes this year's cohort of nursing students

Nursing professor Jan Draper welcomes this year's cohort of nursing students

Congratulations on starting your journey to becoming a registered nurse.

Picture: iStock

Some of you might be coming to university straight from school or college, others from different walks of life. But whatever the route, it’s likely to have taken a few years to get to this point, achieving the entry requirements and getting through the recruitment and selection process. Your nursing degree programme is now stretching out ahead of you.

Although it is quite some time since I was in your position, I vividly remember those first few weeks when everything felt so new and unfamiliar and, if I’m honest, a little overwhelming. But almost 40 years later, I still look back on my student days as being a formative and crucial foundation for my subsequent clinical and academic career.

So, as you start out on your nursing education, what are some of the key things for you to think about?

  • Act in a professional manner from the outset, whether in university or when you are on a clinical placement.
  • Familiarise yourself with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) code and commit to it from day one.
  • Don’t do things beyond your competency. Never feel under pressure to do something in practice that you don’t feel competent to do. Ask someone to teach you so that you can always practise safely.
  • Report bad practice if you see it. This is part of your responsibility under the NMC code. Raiding concerns can be difficult to do, so talk to your mentor or lecturer so they can support you.
  • Be proactive. Take advantage of all that university life can offer you and embrace every opportunity. You will get more out of your degree if you take the initiative and continuously seek out learning opportunities.
  • Be the best you can be. Always be inquisitive and ask questions. Don’t ever feel like you can’t ask a question, chances are there are others wanting to ask the same thing.
  • Don’t forget the person behind the patient. Every patient is a person with their own story and personal history. Seeing the person is at the heart of person-centred care and you should hold on to that thought at all times.
  • Gather support around you. There will be times when the going gets tough and you’ll need the support of family, friends and fellow students. Start gathering that support network from the start so that it’s ready and waiting when you need it. Online resources such as the Student Nurse Project on Twitter can also be a great source of advice and support.
  • Mentors are important. They are role models who can take you under their wing and teach you, and are integral to your learning in practice. Some mentors will be better than others but you also have a role to play in fostering this relationship. It is much easier for mentors to work with students who are enthusiastic and inquisitive rather than those who seem disinterested, so be proactive and take the initiative.
  • Be prepared for the second-year dip. There is usually a low point in the middle of the programme where it feels like you’ve been doing the course for ages and there is still such a long way to go. Being aware that this can happen will help prepare you. And don’t worry, it will pass.
  • Leadership starts now. You don’t have to wait until you’re qualified to be a leader, so be a leader wherever you are. But take care that your enthusiasm isn’t misinterpreted by those around you who could feel threatened by it. Be sensitive and diplomatic at all times.

'A precious time'

Rather than regarding the next three years as ‘time to serve’, see it as a privilege, a precious time you will never have again. You will work very hard and there will be times when you doubt you’ve done the right thing, but you’ll look back on your student years and realise how special they are, so make the most of them.

Your student experience will not only get you to your destination of becoming a registered nurse, it will teach you a lot about what it feels like to be a nursing student, and this will influence how you support and mentor students in the future. 

Jan Draper is professor of nursing at the Open University 



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