Recommendations · Reflection · Self care · The StN Project

So, You’re About to Start Your Nursing Degree…

So, you’re about to start your nursing degree and most-likely full of mixed emotions, questions and anxieties – well, I was anyway. I’m just going into my second year, studying adult nursing at the University of Plymouth and as I write this, it’s exactly one year since I was made an offer! I went through clearing after missing an offer for medicine and although I had never expected to be sat here writing a blog about being a first-year student nurse, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

For me, first year was about finding my feet, getting to grips with how university education worked, learning the basics and essentially learning what a nurse is (because you think you know, but there are so many possibilities and directions that you won’t have even dreamed of!) Your first assignment is completely foreign, your first placement comes with so many expectations but go at it with an open-mind, be kind to yourself, and do your best. A big theme that came out of year one was

students saying that because the year doesn’t count towards your overall degree (at most universities, do check), then “all I need to do is pass, get 40% and move on.” If your best is 40%,

brilliant! If it’s 80%, then well done. But I implore you to try your best. Seek support from each other, from the library, from your tutor, from learning development and do the best that you can do. It’ll set you up so well for second-year but not only that, to be the best nurse you can be. Have a can-do attitude towards your studies and the world is your oyster.

My top-tips for being successful in your studies (and these are by no means coming from an expert, just someone who has completed first-year), include:

  • Prepare for your module before it starts! Read the module handbook, check out the reading list and see if any of the items are in the library. Write your timetable into your paper diary, and also the assignment hand-in date or exam.
  • Download any available PowerPoints before the lectures and have a quick look through them to get a feel for what the module is about and your head in the game. If there is a lot of self-directed study, plan what you are going to do on those study days. This may seem like over-kill, but it’ll save a lot of time!
  • If the assignment hand-in date or exam is during placement, try and get the bulk of it written or the main revision done before the placement starts. There’s nothing worse than coming home from a 12-hour shift and having to study.
  • If you are struggling, don’t suffer in silence and hope for the best. Your university will have lots of support available from the library, to learning development to tutors. But don’t forget each other, fellow students are often your best resource.
  • Look at the learning outcomes for the module exam before starting your revision and plan it around these! Then, if you want to, read around. I made the mistake of delving far too deep into some topics and then running out of time towards the end. Learn what you need to first.
  • Don’t forget about the feedback you were given for your last assignment or exam – use it to improve your next one. I make sure I fit the things to improve on into the plan for my next essay, so the only way is up!

Now studying isn’t and shouldn’t be 24/7. You need time out with friends, family and yourself to rest, recuperate and be successful. Not only that, on placement it is important that you are refreshed after each day on shift for patients’ safety. Some tips to take care of yourself and maintain a work-life balance are;

  • Plan, plan, plan! Keep a diary, have all your lectures and appointments on your phone as a back-up, but schedule in time out. Make sure you write time-out down too, be it a yoga class or a film with a friend.
  • Remove your work email app from your phone during annual leave!
  • Think of exercise as a productive thing that you have done that day, prioritise it too! Be it a walk with a friend, a class or a home-work out – it is something productive and healthy for your body to help you focus for the rest of the day.
  • Work a 9-5 on study days, treat it like a job in order to keep your weekends free.
  • Don’t forget about your hobbies. If something is important to you such as music, art, sport, reading – don’t leave them behind. They are what make you, you and if they make you a happy person, it makes for a happier nurse.

Now some of you will just want to focus on your degree and become a registrant, and that’s of course totally fine! Some of you however will want to pack your 3 years full and make the most of your £9250 fees (in England)! At least, that’s my position. Whether that be conferences, getting involved with the RCN, writing for journals, getting on Twitter – there are hundreds of things we can be doing as student nurses to further our knowledge, get out there and build that portfolio. Here are

some of the things that myself and some colleagues got involved in during our first years.

    Becoming a course representative/getting involved with academic representation. A lot of us at the StNProject are course reps who are students in their cohort that attend meetings with academics from the faculty and feedback to them how students feel about certain elements of the course. It’s a great way to learn about how your programme runs and make the student voice heard.
    • Becoming an

RCN Student Information Officer

    : Click to find out how you could be involved with the Royal College of Nursing as a student. There are so many fantastic opportunities for you, but also lots of support.
    Joining a health-related society and even setting up a Nursing Society! Have a look at what your student’s union offers in terms of societies on their website, if there’s not a nursing society and you’d like one, set it up!
    • Applying to the Council of Deans of Health

Student Leadership Programme

    ; This year, I was part of cohort 3 of the Council of Deans of Health Student Leadership Programme which brings 150 nursing, midwifery and allied health professions students together at 2 conferences to learn about leadership in healthcare, collaborate and network. Between these 2 conferences, we have a mentorship programme where we meet 3 times with someone in a healthcare leadership position to learn from each other and work on a personal development plan. I would not be the student nurse I am today, have met the wonderful people I now call friends and have had half the opportunities that I have had if I hadn’t applied, so if the email from your university heads your way, do apply.
  • Joining The Student Nurse Project Team! @StNurseProject on Twitter and Instragram. Link to our Facebook page.
  • Creating a professional nursing-related Twitter account. This was actually part of our curriculum at Plymouth, learning about digital professionalism and the opportunities that come with being on social media in a professional capacity. I loved it so much, that I deleted my personal Twitter account as I found I never used it after creating my professional one! My feed became full of research, learning, tweet chats, debates, support, motivation – and it has also opened doors to me that I would never have thought about!
  • Being a student ambassador for the nursing programme at open days and applicant days. This is an opportunity to tell the world how much you love nursing and help recruit students to your course – you also get paid!

Needless to say, the biggest bit of advice I have is enjoy it – it goes by in a flash. I love everything I do on my course and beyond. You are entering a profession that is the most trusted, one of the most employable, but also one of the most diverse – who knows where it’ll take you? So, try your best, enjoy the year and good luck!

Rachael Palmer (@PUNCrachpalmer)

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