Yesterday, months after I qualified and 3 years after I first claimed the key, I emptied my locker at Birmingham City University for the last time. This was a big deal for me and I realised as my eyes stung with tears that THIS had in fact been the moment I had dreaded today. As I woke in the morning I assumed the butterflies were in fact due to my fear of face planting the stage as I shook the chancellors hand? Or maybe my elegant formal robes showing me up for the girl I really am and becoming wedged in my pants? And yet I had breezed through the graduation ceremony with a smile even gliding past Lenny Henry (The Chancellor) who congratulated me with a hand shake.
Yet standing before my locker, my heart raced and my mascara was at serious risk of running down my face. It was then that I realised I was leaving home. The only constant and certainty that I have had for three years. It is and has been my safe place and comfort zone for so long now that if I’m honest I don’t feel ready for the real world yet. I worry that outside of these walls, without the support of the amazing staff here, I may realise that in fact I have no idea what I am doing.
As I unpacked books, sweet wrappers and water bottles containing new strains of E.coli, I inhaled sharply. I consoled myself that there was no longer anyone I knew here, to see me with a face as red as my hair.
“You got a locker, lucky you!” chirped a student walking behind me.
“It’s yours if you want it, I’m done now”.
I handed over my key and enquired about this lovely ladies studies. She asked about my chosen career, I gave her exam advice. As I walked away it dawned on me for the first time that I’m not a student anymore. I am a Nurse…a real life grown up nurse with a pin number and one day I may have a student sitting in my car, travelling around with me and listening to what I say! ( I laughed at loud at this thought as it seemed quite preposterous.)
It got me thinking about my journey as a student and the people that have taught me the most valuable lessons. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about today. The relationship between mentor and student.
Firstly, it is not just those with mentor qualifications that influence and guide student nurses. Each and every one of us that interacts with student’s will directly and indirectly teach and influence their practice. What and how the message is delivered will undoubtedly leave a mark on impressionable minds, eager to learn and even more eager to please. Its a big responsibility, huge in fact. But I wanted to remind everyone that regardless of if a nurse has accepted a role as a mentor, we learn a lot from you.
I have learned so much. Whilst I’ve always done well with the theory, I would not be the nurse that I am today without some extraordinary lessons in common sense and the practicalities of being at nurse, that can not be taught from lectures and text books.
I giggle sometimes when I think of the errors that I made, there were many humbling moments. I remember once as a first year finding that a patient had a high temperature and when asked about necessary steps by my mentor, I listed the sepsis six pathway…only to be greeted with the widest of smiles and told to consider removing a few blankets before calling the critical care team (from memory he had four blankets…and a dressing gown.)
There was also the time that I forgot to remove the cap from the catheter bag before attaching it. When my patient showed me his empty bag, obviously uncomfortable and not passing urine I was beside myself with shame.
“I should log an incident against myself!” I said through tears to my mentor, “I could of caused serious damage!”.
Again, I was encouraged and greeted with understanding “Naomi, don’t be so hard on yourself! Your patient is safe, you’ve explained the error that you made, you’ve apologised and I’m pretty sure you will never do that again!”
These wonderful nurses built me up. They encouraged me to advocate for my patients with the doctors. They questioned my rational. They gave me responsibility. They showed me consequence. I learned so many lessons. Not all of them however were intentional or positive.
From the perspective of the qualified nurse, I am sure there are stereo typical students traits that you know and pick up on quickly. As I am newly qualified I would consider myself neutral, not a student and not in my own eyes, a real nurse yet. So from this unique perspective I’m going to let you in on a secret…students form very quick ideas and opinions too.
A few observations are made almost immediately: Is your ward/team friendly? Does everyone say hello and acknowledge your name? How do the qualified staff speak about each other and other students? Is a ward run top down…or bottom up? Who are the people to avoid?
Its hard because every placement I’ve been on has been full of busy people, all working hard to meet the needs of patients, under less than favourable circumstance with little resource. But we must remember that students are looking to us for an example. If we show them that we are over worked , under stress and that “it’s not like that in reality”, then we put out some of that light and belief that they have. We must encourage only positive self-fulfilling prophecies . Please NEVER tell a student that they wont change the way it is. I’ve got through three years batting off those comments and refusing to believe that it true. It has been the only thing that’s kept me going.
Whilst we must not sugar coat or rose tint the role of the nurse, we must encourage enthusiasm, instil belief and remember that student nurses have chosen to give up jobs, disrupt lives and change everything that that are; just to walk by your side, follow your lead and learn from their hero’s (that’s us).
To become a student nurse in the current climate people turn their worlds upside down. Student nurses today do not fall into this career, they want to be here. They’ve fought to be here. They are there despite the fact that they’re entire family is under pressure because they’re juggling exams and placement, which leads to an immense amount of guilt. Despite the fact that they’re own families have medical problems. Despite the fact that their relationships are under pressure. They are there even though they are exhausted and close to tears because… not one of our students ever really believes they are good enough. Lenny asked us during his speech if we could remember who we were when we started our journey, the sacrifices although worth it are too many to articulate.
This is undeniably similar to how many qualified nurses feel themselves, but with a big difference. Student nurses are not paid to be there. The bursary which I was lucky enough to receive, barely covers the cost of placement expenses and no longer exists. This means going forward that the students are paying us to teach them. We know that this has dramatically declined intake numbers.
The best nurses understand that the right students are valued members of the team. They are eager, enthusiastic and filled with knowledge to utilise and guess what? To a student nurse, qualified nurses are basically like a rock star…so make sure you rock!
I’ve been so fortunate to have worked with some amazing nurses and university lecturers. Nurses’ who have never forgotten why they do this … I intend to be one of those nurses…once I’ve figured out my arse from my head (which will be preferable in a community setting.)
So thank you, to my rock stars, to those that pulled me through the last leg when I genuinely didn’t think I was going to make it. For the tissues, cups of coffee and team talks. I did it.
I am a Nurse.
Love and light
With special thanks to my rock stars:
Bridget, Gary, Steph, Steve, Linda, Meriel, Ann-Marie, Kevin, Kedge, Chris, Scott, Emma W, Dion, Rob, Helen, Claire M, Gail Gray, Sonia Mckenzie. John Walsh, Louise Brady, Louise Goodyear.
My Friends: Alex, Toni, Freddie and Dan