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Student Nursing: Your Placements

Written on 8/2/16

Student Nursing: Your Placements

When you start your nursing degree you’ll choose a specialisation, such as adult nursing, child nursing, mental health nursing, dual field (a mixture of different specialisations) and so on. Whatever you choose to specialise in, you’ll be going on placement. Placement is a chance to work in real-world situations with real-world professionals, which will be absolutely invaluable to your training as a nurse.

The type of placements and the way they are worked out will depend on the specialisation you’ve chosen, the university you study with, and the Health Trusts in the local area, but the information below will give you a broad outline of what placements to expect for each specialisation.

Adult Nursing

You’ll typically be expected to complete around six placements, which may be with the NHS, private or charity organisations. The specific placements will vary, but generally they will include:

  • Community (adult)
  • Medical
  • Surgical
  • Critical care

Child Nursing

Again, child nursing will typically involve around six placements, which may also be with NHS, private or charity organisations, generally including:

  • Community (child)
  • Medicine
  • Surgery
  • Speciality (subject to circumstances and availability)

Mental Health

Same again: around six placements, generally including:

  • Community (adult)
  • Adult inpatient
  • Older adult inpatient
  • Speciality (subject to circumstances and availability)

Dual Field: Adult/Child

If you’ve gone for Dual Field, you’ll be focused on aspects of both adult and child nursing, which means more to learn, and therefore you need to do more placements. You’ll typically do around eight placements, including:

  • Child medical
  • Child surgical
  • Child community

Dual Field: Adult/Child Mental Health

If you’re doing Dual Field Adult and Child Mental Health, you’ll be expected to do around eight placements, including:

  • Adult medical
  • Adult
  • Surgical
  • Adult community

Placement Allocation

In general, placements are pre-planned by your university, but they will bear in mind personal circumstances such as:

  • Where you live
  • Whether you have dependents/kids
  • If you have a car


You’ll be given a mentor on your placement, who will be on hand to supervise you, as you won’t quite be ready to be let loose. Arrangements are handled by the organisation you’re placed with, but typically your mentor will be a fully qualified registered nurse with an additional qualification for mentoring.

Bear in mind, though, that this does not mean you’ll be constantly supervised – your mentor will be a practising medical professional and will often be called away to help patients. If you need help while your mentor is busy, you should be able to go to their supervisor. Rest assured that you won’t be left alone to handle anything you’re not ready to handle.

Working Hours

Like the real world, your working hours will vary. They will mirror those of the hospital/clinic/etc. where you are placed, so you’ll work whatever hours your mentor or nursing colleagues work. This means you could be doing a standard 9 to 5, Monday to Friday – or it could mean working multiple consecutive 12-hour shifts. This may sound daunting, but the point of a placement is to acclimatise you to the reality of nursing – and those 12-hour shifts are most definitely a reality (and can also be the most rewarding).

Travel Arrangements / Expenses

Whilst the placement you are assigned to will take certain things into account (such as whether you have a car or not), you will be responsible for getting yourself to your placement. Most students will receive an NHS bursary for placements, which will generally cover travel expenses, although the amount you can claim will vary, so don’t go ordering any Limos. As a rule of thumb, you can’t claim travel expenses if your journey to placement is less than your distance to university.

You can claim for costs on a weekly basis, but remember that you can only claim after you’ve travelled.

Being Successful on Your Placements

Your placements will be a huge learning curve for you and are designed to prepare you for the real world of nursing - and the real world can be daunting. Check out these pointers for getting through – and enjoying – your nursing placements:

  • Get to know your shift patterns well in advance. There is no time to be late in nursing.  
  • Introduce yourself to your mentor well in advance so you can get to know each other.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Patients cannot be treated on guesswork.
  • Don’t be intimidated. This is all new to you. Every nurse was new once. Ask.
  • Get to know the health care assistants. They are often more able to talk with you and have less in the way of urgent care commitments than nurses, who are often extremely busy.
  • You will make mistakes. You are still learning and you are not perfect (yet), so prepare yourself mentally to make mistakes and don’t beat yourself up.
  • Build up your skills from the bottom. Before you leap into the advanced stuff like administering injections, you need to know the basics of care. Changing beds, washing patients, observations, and other fundamentals are crucial to understanding the whole environment of care. The health care assistants are the best people to teach you these, so make sure you get to know them.  
  • Observe procedures. Watching experienced professionals is an incredibly effective way of learning, so put yourself forward and ask to observe.
  • Network. The more people you get to know, the more you’ll be exposed to the world of nursing, and the more you’ll learn. Offer to make staff members a cuppa. They might take you under their wing and show you the ropes. (Just make sure you get the tea right.)  
  • If you’re a first year, grab some help from third years. If you’re a third year, teach some newbies. It will help both of you; teaching is a powerful means to learn things.
  • You will be tired, especially when you start. Do not underestimate this. Get a lot of sleep before your placement and as much as possible between shifts, because those 12-hour shifts will be tough: there’ll be little time for rest, and you’ll constantly be absorbing new information, so give your brain, and you, a break.

Feedback from a recently qualified nurse

We asked a recently qualified nurse to give us some feedback on her final year and getting through her placements.

Getting through the final year

The final year was exciting but exhausting all the same time.  In your final placements you are given so much more responsibility which is amazing; it’ a massive step up.  You finally feel close to the end and you start to feel like a real medical professional. However I spent so much time wishing for more time! The end of your studies just suddenly creeps up on you. You spend your first and second years wishing it was the third year, but come third year you are wishing for another year as a student! So, be prepared for the jump in time management for the final year. It’s so, so important.

Study tips

To get through it all use all the resources available to you. Most hospitals have a library that students can sign up to which are a treasure trove of information for assessments. And if stuck, ask for help from mentors tutors and other students – it’s not a sign of weakness.

What was your favourite part of the overall experience?

Throughout my training I found out that I loved the emergency side of nursing which is what led me to a career in A&E nursing.

Any final words of wisdom regarding placements?

Go into placements with an open mind. Even if something sounds like it’s not for you, you can actually be pleasantly surprised! I wouldn’t have dreamt that A&E would be the environment for me, but I loved doing it, and that’s where I work now.