Learning how to learn on placement

#HelloMyNameIs Aliya and I am a 2nd year student children’s nurse. When I began placements, I was so excited. Of course, the nerves were there too, and this is something I’m sure everybody starting placements is familiar with. In my experience, I found a lot of the nerves I felt stemmed from actually knowing what to do with myself whilst on shifts. I found myself asking questions in my head: ‘should I just be observing?’; ‘are they wanting me to ask to help?’; ‘if I ask questions while they’re doing something, is this distracting or getting in the way?’.

You very quickly begin to find your feet, but sometimes it can be easy to slip back into the mindset that you aren’t ‘doing enough’ or making the most of each shift. I wanted to write this post because as I have gone through my first few placements, I feel I have picked up on some things that have personally helped me to get more out of placement, even on those (dare I say it) more … calm?! Shifts.

Firstly, my main and probably most important tip is to show how keen you are. I have found that if you show interest and that you actually want to be there and learn, the nurse you’re working with is much more likely (most of the time..!) to want to offer you learning opportunities before you even ask. They can see how much you want this, so will want to help you as much as they can! I have found sometimes as a student it can be difficult to know what you are and are not allowed to do, and therefore showing lots of interest in something means the nurses will sometimes ask if you would like to have a go at something and develop your skills!

Leading on from this, it is so crucial to ask questions and ask to practice your skills! I’m sure you will know that already and it seems obvious however, sometimes when you’re in a situation where the person you’re working with is in the middle of something/ with a patient, I personally often found myself wanting to know or do something but feeling too awkward to ask in front of the patient/ their family, or it was just inappropriate timing. Therefore I found making a mental note in my head or in a notebook of questions to ask later was great so you can fill the gaps in your knowledge and don’t miss out on understanding something better. On top of this, sometimes the nurse or whoever you’re working with doesn’t realise you want to have a go at something or they might not know you’ve never done it before and have been desperate to have a go. I found on my very first placement I would sometimes miss learning opportunities because I didn’t realise I was allowed to do a particular skill as a first-year. The majority of the time nurses will be more than happy for you to have a go at doing something so seek the learning opportunities even if you feel awkward asking. They will be more impressed with your enthusiasm rather than if you just stay quiet and even if the timing isn’t quite right and they won’t let you do that skill right now, there will be other opportunities!

Another thing I have found is to not be afraid of simply observing sometimes. As much as it is great to get stuck in, it is so important to watch things too. I know sometimes I have thought that if I want to just watch something, then I’m not ‘achieving’ anything- but this couldn’t be further from the truth! We are students, we are there to learn, if we are constantly just doing things then we cannot learn as well as we could be. This is because a large part of our job is, putting it simply, ‘people skills’. Watching how other people deal with and handle situations is crucial in being able to use and develop these skills in our own practice. You can reflect on how someone was spoken to, reassured, or how another nurse cared for that patient and their family. It also then allows you to question how you would have dealt with that situation, would you have dealt with it differently? What would you use from that experience going forward? Never let anybody make you feel silly for asking to observe something that they may deem as ‘not interesting’ or a ‘not useful’ learning opportunity. Just because it’s not watching brain surgery doesn’t mean its not helpful or uninteresting for us students! Simply listening to things like a conversation between a doctor and the person you’re working with, or seeing how they take a phone call can be so helpful in just understanding how to do these things yourself and build your confidence!

Learning how to learn on placement is a skill in itself. It can be somewhat intimidating, as it is all so new and overwhelming but also so exciting and can help you to massively build confidence in yourself and learn so much more. Every shift, however it goes, will always have something new or different to learn, and that’s part of the beauty of what we do. Don’t panic if you have days where you feel like you’re out of your depth- we all do. Always reflect on how far you have come, and be inquisitive. Learning, being enthusiastic, and confident will most definitely be part of the equation to see you on your way to becoming the successful, amazing nurse that I undoubtedly know you will be one day!

Disclaimer: This blog contains personal opinions of students and teaching fellows only and does not necessarily represent the views of the Children’s Nursing team, School of Health Sciences or the University of Surrey.

If you’re interested in writing a blog post for us – whether it’s a one-off about something in Nursing you’re passionate on, or as a regular contributor, please email Chloe Thomas (ct00633@surrey.ac.uk) or Aliya Stratford (as03037@surrey.ac.uk) – we’d love to hear from you!