Placement · Self care

Health conditions and nursing

Please be aware that this is very subjective and this does not objectively describe what other students may experience.

So many people say to me “I don’t know how you do it!” when I explain to them what I have going on in my life. Truthfully, I don’t know either.

Being a student nurse is difficult, for anybody. There would not be many people whom would argue that being a student nurse is an easy ride. Heavy workloads, 2300 hours of placement, having to work part time jobs and other commitments. Having a health condition is a whole separate ball game. There is an extra barrier in the way of everything you want to do.

I started my nursing training in 2013. I was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in 2015, thyroid cancer in 2015 and a relapse in 2017. Due to surgeries to remove tumours I also have hypothyroidism. On top of that I also have a mix of depression and anxiety which went unnoticed and untreated for a while.

Being a patient and being a nurse gives you a complete set of your own challenges. As a patient, sometimes I feel I know too much. I question HCP’s and I will disagree when I believe that a decision isn’t being made in my best interest. This doesn’t make me the “easiest” of patients and HCPs start to treat you differently when you show you have some knowledge. Being a patient makes me frustrated when I find holes in the system and I sit there and think “What if I wasn’t me, what if I was someone who was more vulnerable and couldn’t be as demanding?”. There are numerous times that I have had to fight for my care.

Sometimes it can make me frustrated in my student nurse role too. For nearly a year, I had cared for my central line, taking bloods, doing dressing changes and teaching other HCPs how to do these too. However, I can’t use these skills that I learnt while being a student, which admittedly I understand, but I hate feeling deskilled.

My personal care schedule can be full on sometimes and I must be flexible and imaginative in having to co-ordinate this. I had to arrange my elective placement 4 weeks earlier than my course mates so that I could fit in having surgery during the summer holidays. Face-timing into lectures while I was having radiotherapy. This is on top of the frequent reviews from each different medical team, which is currently only 7 teams, but has been a lot more previously.

Organisation is essential. I cannot simply “muddle through” my course like some other students. I must be strict with my time and schedules. I must do work on any day that I feel remotely human because I don’t know when the next time will be that I am going to be physically well enough to work again.

I have to live with constant worry. This is probably the part which takes up the most of my time… Did I just itch my arm? Maybe I’ve got cancer… uh oh, I slept for 12 hours last night, time to go and get some more bloods to check my medication level… Is that a lump? Was that there last week? Better go and have a scan… I am so acutely aware of the tiny changes happening in my body, it can be very consuming.

Occupational health doctors are your friend. They aren’t there to stop you being a nurse, they are there to help you make adjustments to make sure that you can be the best nurse you can. I honestly wouldn’t have survived my last 3 years without my occupational health doctor. She found my cancer. She has been there for hour long rambles about how awful I feel. She co-ordinates my care, refers me and chases other doctors for answers. She’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I have had to learn to be painfully honest. I have to be honest at university when things are not okay and too much for me. At the start of every placement, I have to be honest, I am going to need time off, I will be in the hospital several times throughout this placement. I have to be honest with parents or other HCP’s when they ask, my scars undeniably are very visible across my throat, it is natural for people to be curious about that, sometimes it just comes at a time you are least expecting it. Or worse, people talk about it behind your back and ask other staff questions, so I just have to be brutally honest to avoid this.

Although I have spoken about some of the negatives for having health conditions, there are upsides too. I know what it’s like to be given life changing news. To have to start brutal treatment which changes your body in ways you dislike. I can empathise with my patients and try to anticipate and change that for them. I understand the fundamental importance of having a good MDT in a patient’s life.

Despite going though nursing training with complex health conditions, I wouldn’t change what I want to do as I feel that it contributes to making me a better future nurse. I live to give back to my patients what my nurses gave to me.

(Lucy Mason – student nurse) 

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