The StN Project

How to write a reflection – and why is it important?

Reflection. I can almost hear the collective sighs of dread echoing from student nurses across the land as I say that word, and I feel your pain. The tick box list of reflections to write throughout a placement, rehashing every minute of your day at the end of a long shift when all you want is a bubble bath and a cup of tea (or glass of wine!). However – if you think, or reflect, indeed, for a second – the art of reflection is vital to our practice as nurses.  

I’ve always been a bit of a reflector – a deep thinker, I suppose. I would write diaries from as soon as I could scrawl along a page. Later, this turned into blogging. As a student who studied science A Levels but a linguist at heart, I was frustrated by their rigidity and blogging and writing felt like my outlet. Then, when I got to University and I was presented with this term – reflection – and introduced to my e-portfolio, I stared cluelessly at the page in front of me for many an evening. Where do you even start?  

Now that I’m coming to the end of my final year, I’ve written thousands and thousands of words of reflection for my portfolio. It’s been known for mentors to sigh as they open my documentation to see the block of words in front of them (sorry mentors!), but I think it’s been the most valuable tool for my learning throughout my training. It’s also incredibly rewarding to be able to look back at my time as a student nurse, from my very first placement, and see how I have developed as a practitioner and as a person. 

The structure of a reflection does not have to be too rigid. I like to see it almost like a professional diary entry. Say you want to write a reflection about a cardiac arrest. I would lay out my reflection as follows: 

Summary of Event & Main Issues
Here I would write a brief synopsis, a factual account of what happened during the event/incident. I also like to list the main points that I want to talk about in my reflection – for example, I might want to talk about the emotional impact of witnessing a resuscitation, how well the situation was managed, and the effects of the cardiac arrest on the patient’s family.  

Critical Analysis of Event
This is the bit that most students seem to find challenging – I think the words “critical analysis” throw us off a bit. However, it’s not actually anything fancy. I like to write about what I think went well and what didn’t go so well in the event. I also address each pertinent issue that I listed in the introduction. I like to try and remain balanced and factual but also remember that this is a reflection, and so I write about how I felt during the event, as well as what I and other staff members did and said.  

Learnings for future practice
I write about my main learnings as a student nurse from this event – for example, for a cardiac arrest, perhaps learning about how to break bad news to family members. I also write about what I would do differently if the same scenario was to occur again in the future. It’s important to focus your reflection upon what you have gained from the experience to help you develop as a future practitioner.  

Follow up Issues & Actions
Finally, I like to list any particular issues coming from the event that I would like to explore further, and how I would do that. Again, going back to our cardiac arrest example, I could write that I wanted to learn more about managing advanced life support during resuscitation so I could better understand and participate in future cardiac arrests, and I would do this by doing some extra reading and arranging to spend time with the hospital resuscitation team.  

And it’s as simple as that. I think the most important thing about writing reflections is not to over-think what you’re writing – it should be natural, personal and insightful to both yourself and any other reader. As long as you adhere to patient confidentiality, ensuring nobody in the incident can be identified, you can write freely about your own thoughts and emotions. So, before you sigh at the thought of writing a reflection, remember what you could gain from it if you put your heart and soul into them? 

This blog was written by Beth Phillips (@paedsnursebeth) 

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