Nursing

  • Carry Pens! And other things I learnt from my first placement.

    1. What on earth a call bell sounds like.

    Now it sounds ridiculous, but it’s those tiny details that get taken for granted and subsequently missed. Which is precisely what led me to standing in the middle of a hallway like a deer in headlights thinking what on earth is that beeping?! It can take a little bit of adjusting to get used to the hospital environment: there are so many new sights, sounds, smells. So heads up, try to be a bit less daft than I was and find out what the call bell sounds like early on.

    2. Carry scissors. And tape.

    I can guarantee you that there will be a point where you, or somebody around you, will need them, and they’ll be lost in that giant black hole that contains all the lost bobby pins and pens too. Speaking of which…

    3. Carry a pen! Carry 600 pens!!

    I am a firm believer in the idea that you can never have too many pens. Of course, they will absolutely all run out at once, but there are only so many safeguards you can apply. At least everything’s going electronic now though, right?

    4. Your patients really will be patient.

    For many years now, nurses have been Australia’s most trusted profession. This is actually reflected in the way the patients treat you. Sometimes you’ll have trouble getting the oxygen saturation because your patient’s hands are too cold, and sometimes you just won’t be able to find a pulse.

    Don’t be scared of your patients - they want the same thing as you do; for them to recover. They won’t mind if you fumble a little bit, or take a bit longer than the RNs. They know that if you don’t practice, you won’t learn.

    5. Bringing food for everyone to the break room is always a good idea.

    Seriously! Healthcare is such hard work! A little something to fuel everyone will not only get you in everyone’s good books, but more importantly, will show them how appreciative you are for everything they’re teaching you. If you are a star in the kitchen then bake up a storm! When you find yourself being far too tired to cook, a Friday afternoon store bought cake is guaranteed to be welcomed with open arms. Bonus points if you can bring something healthy that still tastes good.

    6. That I wasn’t going to kill anyone!

    I was so anxious doing my first set of obs! Of course, I wanted to get everything perfect, but I think it helps to step back and think about what you’re doing. Stay calm, and remember that if you’re too nervous, you’re probably going to be a bit less accurate in what you’re doing. Try to relax, because by the end of the week (maybe even the shift) you’ll be so much more confident in your skills!

    7. A little kindness goes a long way.

    Getting on the ward for the first time is the perfect time to consolidate all the skills that you’ve learned. Blood pressures, ECGs, handovers, there’s so much to do! But it can be all too easy to forget about some of the soft skills that we learn too. So, if you have a free moment, have a chat with some of your patients and check if they need anything. Sometimes, all someone wants is someone who’ll listen, or even just a cup of tea.

    8. It will be so difficult.

    You’ll see some really tough things. You might even see some people die. You might cry. You might need to have forty minute showers each day when you get home so that you can make sense of everything you saw, like I did. But, in saying that…

    9. It will be so much fun.

    You will feel so empowered knowing that you are using the skills you’ve learnt, and knowing that even so early on, you’re already helping people and making a difference.

    10. That this is what I’m meant to do.

    It sounds corny, I know, but as soon as I actually got into the hospital and interacted with patients, other nurses, families, doctors, pharmacists, social workers and everyone else, I really knew that nursing was my calling. I cherished the patient interactions, I adored learning from the RNs and I was exhilarated by the problem solving I had to employ to navigate each of my days there.

    And I hope you’ll feel this to.

    3 years ago
  • The art of reflective practice

    I might be the biggest advocate for writing you ever meet. I have enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember; I find my ability to express myself with the written word so much clearer, than with speech, and the overbearing perfectionist in me loves being able to edit things before I send them off. So what follows probably has an inherent bias, but I’d like you to read it anyway, because I think it carries some merit. Today, I’m overjoyed to be writing about writing; or more specifically reflective practice.

    From the beginning of this semester we’ve been taught about reflective practice. To boil it down, reflective practice is essentially the act of writing about your experiences and reflecting on how you felt and acted, and what you could do better next time. It is particularly pertinent to healthcare practice, where we often have to think and make decisions with great speed, leaving little time to analyse what we do and why we do it.

    Within our training, it’s somewhat of a soft skill. It is not the intensive physiology classes, applying clinical manifestations to the body. It is not the case study on the patient presenting with COPD and pneumonia undergoing respiratory alkalosis due to her hyperventilation. It is not learning to recognise a ventricular fibrillation on an ECG or undertake a mental health assessment.

    But it is valuable nonetheless.

    While we as clinicians—and I say clinicians, not just nurses, because I believe the benefits of reflective practice can be applied across all areas of healthcare—need this vast reserve of specialised knowledge and skills to know how to best care for our clients, our analysis of what we have learnt is imperative in the safe use and honing of that knowledge.

    One of the things I’ve found of most value about reflective practice is how much it helps me to clarify and understand my strengths and weaknesses. This is paramount to the work of a healthcare professional. No one should be put at risk because we fail to identify where we fall short, or because we don’t know when to ask for help. If I can write down, in clear words, that I have weaknesses that I must address, those weaknesses become tangible to me and are at the forefront of my mind when I am confronted with them again. In short, by knowing my enemy, I am able to develop an effective battle-plan.

    Given the nature of our work, the act of reflection has the added benefit of being cathartic. Healthcare professionals are confronted every day with the stark brutalities of life and death. Holding the burden of caring for people during what is often the worst time of their lives, is a difficult task—and while I don’t think that writing about one’s experiences is the silver bullet against the stress and anxiety that can creep into our lives all too readily, being able to step back from our experiences and analyse them can help us get out of our own heads. Self-expression is a priceless tool, and it is too often that those of us working in health forget to look after ourselves.

    There are a number of models for reflective practice, all with varying methods and levels of depth: Gibbs, Kolb, Borton. I implore you to go out and find one that works for you. My call to arms is this: I want you all to go out and write down your experiences and dissect them. Perform surgery on your actions: pull them apart and stitch them back together, and know that in the future, they will be better.
    4 years ago
  • Making the most of your nursing clinical placement

    Making the most of your nursing clinical placement

    Catriona McLennan

    The nursing school year is ticking onwards and clinical placements will soon be upon us! If you are facing your first placement, you are probably feeling a lively mixture of apprehension, excitement and curiosity. Congratulations! This is an excellent starting point for an experience that will challenge and change you. After completing over five hundred hours of placements to reach my third and final year of nursing school, I have brought together a few tips that I wish had known before my first taste of the crazy, dynamic and rewarding nursing profession.

    Prepare early. Much to the chagrin of most students at some point in the degree, clinical placements are not always located conveniently. I remember that on receiving my first ever placement allocation, I was thrilled by the apparently short distance between my home and my allocated hospital. However, on closer inspection, I found that a significant detour would be required to avoid a body of water! Check the route thoroughly and even do a dry run to ensure you will arrive on time. Set up your uniform and pack your ID card, log book and nursing watch the night before your first day. And remember to set your alarm clock!

    Do your research. There are few things more satisfying than being able to answer a question sprung upon you unexpectedly by your buddy nurse, so take time to brush up on your theory. If you are going to a cardiac ward, do you remember the anatomy of the heart? Where would you place the leads for a 12-lead ECG? What differentiates a STEMI from an NSTEMI? Of course, we are not expected to know everything, and learning is the whole aim of placement. However, you will feel more comfortable if you have a sound knowledge base that allows you to make sense of your environment.

    Be enthusiastic! There is nothing busy nurses like more than a willing and able student ready to watch, learn and lend a hand. If you know something needs to be done and it is within your scope of practice, volunteer to do it. Otherwise, ask if you can watch. You will learn so much more if you take the initiative to seek opportunities for learning. Have you finished all your tasks for the moment? Never fear, there is always something to do! Offer to help others. Research the medications your patients are taking. And of course, chat to your patients and their families! This is a golden opportunity to improve your communication skills. You might even identify an important need, such as that your patient is not coping at home and would benefit from referral to community services. There is so much to learn from being open, honest and enthusiastic.

    Rural placements are fantastic. In second and third year, you may have the opportunity to apply for placement in a rural area. Many people are reluctant to “go rural” because they believe it will be uninteresting with few learning opportunities. I firmly contend that this is a myth. In my second year, I was fortunate to be placed in the coronary care unit of Orange Health Service, approximately 250km northwest of Sydney. I found that the service was well resourced with highly professional staff, and the nurses actively sought opportunities for me that may have been unavailable in a busier metropolitan setting. For example, I was able to follow a patient through every stage of her angiogram, from pre-procedure observations to the surgical intervention itself and follow-up care on the ward. My eyes were also opened to the unique challenges of rural health. Some of our patients had come hundreds of kilometres to use services that were not available in their own communities, while others had to be airlifted to Sydney for more complex care. This was very disruptive for patients and their families and required exceptional empathy, communication and organisation from the nurses. Rural nursing is far deeper and more enriching than many students believe, and I strongly encourage everyone to consider a rural placement.

    Look after yourself. Hospitals can be scary and something may happen during your placement that you find confronting. If so, there are many supports available. Talk to your facilitator or the nurses on your ward, or call the Employee Assistance Program, a free and confidential counselling service offered in all NSW Health facilities. As nurses, we have to look after ourselves and each other, not just the patients.

    Enjoy! Ultimately, your own attitude is what maximises your chance of a fun and constructive placement. Be kind, learn continuously and stay within your scope of practice, and you are well on your way to becoming a caring and competent nurse. Good luck!

    4 years ago
  • We all cried

    One never forgets their first birth experience. For most women, it coincides with welcoming a first born into their family. For a midwifery student however, it’s something quite different.


    For me, it wasn’t quite the ‘call the midwife’ scene I had in mind. Already disappointed by the lack of kind nuns and daunted by the expectation of “catching” forty babies, I was assigned delivery suite as my first placement. Perfect. Day one we were informed there was a woman close to giving birth and a student was required to go in to assist. Not surprisingly, I drew the short straw. At this point you may wonder if I voluntarily enrolled in Midwifery and yes I had, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying.

    As I looked on from behind a baby blanket, I couldn’t help but feel that birth looked like a really impossible task. Trust me, there aren’t enough textbook photos or youtube clips to quite prepare you for the live show.

    Now hindsight and a little more experience has since taught me, that birth is actually far less about me and much more about the newly formed family. But on that day, as I came face to face with my first delivery, I was convinced that it was me who would be left most traumatised by the whole ordeal. Thankfully my moment of panic quickly passed as before me a beautiful baby was born and placed into the arms of his loving parents. They cried. I cried. The baby boy cried. Once we had all pulled ourselves together, I have the privilege of taking their first family photo. The look of pure relief and joy on their faces is one I will never forget.

    From that day, my student year really took off catapulting me into what seemed like 12 months of miraculously impossible tasks. While I won’t ever forget the long shifts, the 3am call ins, the breastfeeding problems, the last minute assignments and the time I fell into the birthing pool (yes, post birth), I also won’t forget the year of life changing memories. I cried A LOT- both happy and sad tears that formed important parts of that very steep learning curve every student midwife must tackle.

    Like any student, I quickly discovered there’s no substitute for the confidence that comes only with time, practise and continual learning. Though I have gone on to focus on women’s health, I know midwifery opened many doors, as well as my eyes, to a wonderful area of health. And for those students who are looking in vain for the light at the end of the tunnel, remember that your student year will eventually come to an end, but the skills you collect will affect generations to come.

    4 years ago
  • Why I chose nursing

    Why nursing?

    To be honest, I didn't want to be a nurse when I finished high school. I applied for paramedicine and nursing was my back up. I chose to go with nursing as I got in close to home and knew I could easily transfer over to paramedicine, or worst case scenario finish nursing and then do paramedicine. Over time my career goals changed. I completed a year of my degree at one university then transferred to a combined arts and nursing degree majoring in history. Early in my first year, I realised that nursing was where I was supposed to be. The choices that lead me to nursing and the reasons it attracted me weren't clear, even to me, until I realised what nursing was. To someone who hadn’t spent a lot of time in hospitals and knew nursing from Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs, I thought I would just go to work, be told what to do by a doctor and then go home. I realised many things in my first year of nursing that are impossible to learn until you find yourself in the thick of it on your first placement. So instead of writing about why I chose to start my nursing degree, I'll tell you what I have learnt about nursing and why I chose to stay in my nursing degree.

    Firstly, I learnt to be there for someone is also beneficial to you. TV shows are horrible at showing the nurse-patient relationship, instead they tend to make the patient a problem to solve. But when you find yourself in a room with a person who’s life has been turned upside down because of their health, you realise that nursing is more than problem-solving. I’'s not just about helping people get better, it’s also quite often about helping them deal with not getting better. Being able to help someone at their lowest point is beneficial to both parties and truly a gift.

    Secondly, I learnt that nursing could help me grow tremendously. It allowed me to see the suffering of others and it has shown me the power of empathy. Nursing is more than just physical assistance, it allows someone to experience an illness without being sick. I started my degree when I was only 17, now at 21 I am an entirely different person because of the lessons I have learnt from the people I have cared for.

    Finally, I chose to stay in my nursing degree because of the satisfaction I feel after finishing work as a nurse. The fulfilment that you get on the way home from a day of helping people is enough to help you sleep soundly at night and wake up not dreading the next day of work.

    I initially picked nursing to eventually move onto something else. Now I choose to continue nursing because of the rewarding career paths I can take. I can help people in Australia, Afghanistan, England, Syria or any other place in the world. Upon completion of my degree, I will have a skill that will allow me to do good both on the other side of the world and in my own backyard. It’s easy to say, “I chose nursing so I can help people” but it’s a lot harder to actually do it.

    Nursing isn’t and will never be easy, but after the experience my degree has given me, I can't imagine doing anything else. A degree in nursing is a lot more than just following doctors’ orders, it’s an opportunity to grow as a person and learn tangible skills to help others. I would recommend a nursing degree to anyone who is unsure of what they want to do after high school, even if you don't fall in love with nursing, you will learn so many valuable life lessons that will help you on the path to a career you will love.

    4 years ago
  • Men in Nursing

    Telling my friends and family I was planning to start a degree in nursing, I was met with support, encouragement, and just a dash of “are you sure?” for good measure. What I wasn’t expecting though, were the occasional bemused questions regarding if I was going to be somewhat of an anomaly in my cohort, and by extension, my career.

    You see, there’s something that makes me a bit different to the majority of my class. I’m male.

    For the first time in my life, I get to experience something that must be felt acutely by so many women around the world: entering a lecture theatre, a laboratory, a workforce, dominated by the opposite sex. The names on the textbooks are female, and when we learn about history the characters are the Florence Nightingales and the Lillian Walds. There are men, but they are a minority. I consider myself very lucky that being a minority in this context is refreshing for me; I know that this is not the case for many. I’m glad that I’ve been able to see this side of things, and I hope it makes me a more conscientious clinician when I complete my degree: equity is, and always will be at the heart of nursing.

    I’ve read a bit about the “glass elevator” — a phenomenon where in industries traditionally dominated by females, men end up progressing upwards more quickly and being paid more. In an increasingly competitive job market for my generation, it can seem only too tempting to grab with both hands whatever advantage is slung our way, fair or not. Personally, like I’d imagine many others, I feel uncomfortable about any advantage given to me because I’m male, and giving merit based on sex rather than skill undermines the notion of patients receiving the best care possible.

    On a personal level, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve really been nothing but cheered on and well wished. My friends think I’ve made a fantastic career choice that suits me perfectly and my family feel the same- my parents bought me a stethoscope and sphygmomanometer for my birthday this year. Living in a large, progressive city, and having peers that share my views, it may be that I am met with more encouragement than perhaps some other men entering the profession, but I do believe that stereotypes are lifting and attitudes are changing.

    The sheer range of nursing as a career means that there is a fulfilling and rewarding path for everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, orientation, religious affiliation or anything else. We are the largest group of healthcare professionals in the country. We care for people from all walks of life and we need to connect with all of them in unique and varied ways. So why shouldn’t nurses be made up of all sorts too?

    The shift in thinking needs to come from both sides. As a society, we must fight against gender stereotyping and understand the harm that it does not only to individuals but to entire systems, and we mustn’t push our boys and men away from being soft and caring because these traits are considered feminine. From the other side of the fence, as members of the nursing community we must quash the negative stereotypes that plague our profession.

    We shouldn’t be drawing men into nursing with the promise of a “glass elevator”, but rather espousing the rewarding nature of the career and putting our collective best foot forward to show that we are more than the public’s perception. If all the stereotypes could by some magic melt away, and people saw nurses for the dynamic masters of art and science that they truly are, then men would be entering the profession in droves.

    It’s important to acknowledge that there is so much that people from all parts of the gender spectrum can bring to the table; there are endless fields that have been enriched by improving sex ratios, and nursing could benefit from doing the same. My female classmates have taught me so much already, and I hope I’ve been able to give them something from a male perspective as well. But I know that if I can’t do that, at least I can grab stuff from the top shelf for them.

    4 years ago

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