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Surviving Your First Year as a Student Nurse

Written on 8/2/16

Studying towards a nursing degree is a good pathway into the medical field, and your first year will lay the foundation for what lies ahead; university will teach you valuable skills that you will carry over into your professional life and help prepare you for entering into nursing.

Your first year is important as it teaches you the basic skills you need and your placement will let you witness medical practices first hand.

Shifting from studying at school or college into university style learning can be a shock to the system, so it is important to prepare yourself in advance.

The following tips may also help you during your first year:

Organize Yourself

Start as you mean to go on. Be organised and look ahead to see how you can stay that way.

You will get the information for your modules fairly early and it could be a helpful idea to use a wall calendar to track any key dates such as exams, or contact time. That way, you will always know where you are in the academic year, and any last minute panics can be avoided.

Whilst there may not be a lot of contact time with your tutors, as a nursing student you will have access to a large variety of medical professionals.

Try learning when they are on rotation and when they may be more available, your questions will then be answered on placement, giving you personal insight into a situation.

You will need to ensure you have all the necessary equipment needed, it’s a good idea to research your fob watch and required shoes for placement in advance of your start date and reassess what you have every month.

Pace Yourself

No one retains everything they learn.

There will always be aspects of studying that may be harder, but this is a challenge rather than a problem.

Dividing difficult ideas up into more manageable points is one way of coping and taking a step back when you feel overwhelmed could also be beneficial.

Taking regular breaks throughout studying is vital, as your brain will need a break from all the information it is processing; it is recommended that for every hour of studying done, a 10-minute break should be taken.

Don’t Make Yourself an Island

Your classmates and peers will be the base of part of your support network, ensure you make good connections with them and get to know them early on in your course.

Creating study and revision groups with a few people can help with discussing ideas or learning together, helping to get a new perspective. Connecting with other medical professionals is going to help you gain valuable insights into aspects of learning you may be having difficulty with and also help you make informed decisions about the future.

For example, each nursing degree comes with a specialisation and coming into contact with professionals specifically in that field will give you information about that career path that you won’t find in textbooks.

  • Adult nursing - during your time on placement you may come across paramedics and doctors in the Accident and Emergency Department, who will help you learn about emergency medicine.
  • Mental health nursing - forming connections with occupational health therapists and taking the opportunity to talk to psychologists will give you insights into situations that you may come across in the future.
  • Paediatric nursing - those working with children will be able to teach you about skills essential to working with children, such as non verbal communication
  • Learning disability nursing - you may come into contact with those working in specialist school and other such areas in placement, giving you valuable insight into life outside of a hospital environment.

Manage Your Time Effectively

Learning and applying effective time management is essential in every academic discipline, but is even more vital in the medical field; being proactive with time management will ensure the best outcomes for your patients, but will also have the knock on effect of helping you with your studies.

Prioritising is essential when working in medicine, as you will always be working with multiple patients at once.

Learning when you need to attend to someone else and making sure you do not spend too much time with one patient may be tricky to learn, but will hold you in good stead for the future.

Get a Mentor

With most courses, your university will give you a mentor for placement, and potentially a co-mentor also.

Mentors are part of the sign off process at the end of your placement, so are important in your learning process; your mentor will be able to help you work on your weaknesses and boost your strengths even further, but they can only help you if you work with them.

Try and spend time with them, get to know them, and ensure you build a trusting relationship. Make sure you know their availability and when is best to contact them. Don’t be shy about talking to them; they are there to help you.

Be Adaptable and Understanding

As with all academic disciplines, there will always be aspects you may not enjoy, such as a particular class or clinical rotation. Don’t be disheartened by this, but try and be adaptable. Look for the positives in the class, or if you find you are struggling, talk to someone about it to try and find a new way of looking at the situation.

Be Prepared To Change Your Plans

It could be that when you first applied to university that you had the future planned out in your head as to where you want your placement to be, and how you want studying to pan out.

You will have chosen a specialisation when you applied to university, but if after the first year you decide that it is not the path for you, then you may be able to change. For example, you may want your placement to be working in a busy hospital, but may enjoy working as a school nurse instead. Trying to stay open to other specialisations and paths will hold you in good stead for the future, as it will give you a great deal of flexibility.

Admit When You're at the Limits of Your Understanding

One of the most important skills when you are studying to be a nurse is being able to admit when you need help. You are dealing with patients, often with urgent problems, and it is important to know when to call for help when you need it. This is not a sign of weakness; trying to perform a procedure if you do not understand it completely runs a risk to the health of the patient.

If you don’t understand a concept, then ask someone - you have access to excellent professionals. Appreciate the opportunity to learn, ask to watch procedures or operations; nursing degrees are constantly changing and you must develop a healthy attitude to wanting to discover new information.

Your First Year Of A Nursing Degree Will Be Informative, Challenging, But Highly Rewarding

Believing in yourself is important, and preparation early will help with boosting confidence; skills such as time management will help you in your future studies, and will carry over into your professional life.