“Have you done this before?” “Su...

“Have you done this before?” “Sure! Does practising on an orange count?”

So, my first year as a student nurse has come to an end. What have I learnt? Am I cut out to be a nurse? Do I even want to carry on? Is nursing what I thought it would be, or have I chosen the wrong path?

When you start to become a nurse, you’re not bothered about boring biology lectures or dull med calc equations. It’s not about the theory. It’s about getting hands-on. About the practice of nursing. About the blood and guts of the profession. And that’s where most new students such as myself find excitement. In practice. You feel like you’re actually doing something, learning something that one day you’ll apply in the field, on the ward, or wherever you end up.

It’s those practical lessons where nurses discover whether the profession is right for them, or whether they’ve made a huge mistake. Trush me, there are students who realise that there is a heck of a lot of hard work coming their way, for very little pay.

Being too posh to wash is never going to cut it.

For me, at my uni, we were given approximately two months of theory and sim lab training before being released into the big wide world of placements. And being someone fairly new to nursing care, I was excited to start learning and actually begin doing.

Of course, all nursing students worth their merit will be terrified. I know I was. I was absolutely not prepared for the first time I had to wipe someone’s bum after they’d been incontinent. Oh, how I wish that was all I would be doing. I was not prepared for the fountain-like hell of vomit and diarrhoea that is c diff, standing to help the poor old gent as he hovered over the toilet and bucket as the stench of infectious body fluid wafted, trapped, in the bathroom. I was not prepared when the elderly lady who was assistance of two managed to walk to the bathroom unaided and then couldn’t get off the toilet. I wasn’t prepared to help someone have a shower, to help the doctor with a lumbar puncture, to sit in a multidisciplinary meeting with people far more educated and far more experienced than I’ll ever be and be expected to contribute.

And yet, the calm, professional face was all my patients saw. They had no idea the first time I wielded that Clexane injection, poised over their stomach, that I’d never injected a person before in my life. No way. They had no idea I’d been teetering on the edge of vomiting when my mentor said I’d be giving the night staff handover. They couldn’t sense the palpitations, heart thudding in my ribcage, when I was given the medicine trolley and eight prescription charts to fill.

That confidence, even if it’s just a facade, is what patients need to see when you’re tasked with looking after them. It’s about them, at the end of the day. It’s about fitting your learning around their illness. And if that means reassuring a patient with a calm demeanour (even though inside you’re dangerously close to tachycardia) then that’s what’s done.

Of course, that doesn’t mean grabbing the catheter and having a good old go, smiling throughout while telling the poor bloke you’ll be as gentle as possible when you’re shoving the tube up his urethra (that’s the pee hole). It means working within limitations, but also pushing yourself to be the best nurse you possibly can be. After all, there’s no point simply observing all the time, right? At some point, a student nurse WILL get their hands dirty. Oh, so very dirty.

But throughout all the pins and needles, the nerves, being dangerously close to passing out, all that training makes sense when you have a patient tell you you’ll be a great nurse. I honestly couldn’t stop smiling the time a patient requested me the next time I was on shift as I’d treated them with compassion. The time a family member gave me a hug and said I’d made their relative’s treatment that little bit better just through doing ever-so little things. Or the time that hard-nosed, jaded nurse who’d walked the wards for decades says you’re exceptional, and you’ll be a damn fine nurse, and has requested to work with you on shift next time.

The fears we have as a student never go away, and each placement still brings that dread along with it. That nervy feeling as you pull on your tunic and trousers, not knowing what to expect. I suspect it’ll be the same once we’ve graduated and we’ve bagged our dream jobs.

But confidence is key. Because if you can convince yourself you’re confident, you can push yourself to do things you never thought you were capable of. By the time you reach the end of your first year you’ll look back through your skills books and see everything you’ve ticked off. And you’ll be surprised at how much you’ve learnt.

Reflecting on my first year I know where my nursing heart lies, and that’s with surgery. I appreciate ward work, and I find medical nursing fascinating. But truly, I’ve found my kin in surgery and it’s something I will pursue now I have direction. I think back at the patients who’ve challenged my professionalism, who’ve championed me along the way, who’ve terrified me, who’ve made me smile and laugh and I know I’ll never forget those first year experiences. I think about the nurses who’ve pushed me to be better than I thought I could be, and those who I swear I’ll never, ever become. And as I finish my reflections and put and end to the first twelve months of my training, I can look back ever-so satisfied and ever-so proud of myself and my nurse friends.

So, on to year two and the challenges that brings. I know I can take it. I know I can.

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