Advice for your first nursing shift

Abbi Jordan-Bland

Faculty: Health, Social Care & Education
Department: School of Nursing and Midwifery
Course: BSc (Hons) Child Nursing
Category: Nursing and midwifery

4 May 2018

Before university, I had never worked as a healthcare assistant or in a hospital before, so I was unsure about what to expect in my first placement on a ward. Here's what happened...

I had been advised by previous students to research my placement setting (a general paediatric ward) and have an idea about what I wanted to achieve during my time there. 

With this in mind, I looked at the types of conditions which I would see during my time, such as bronchiolitis, and also organised going into the ward for a tour so I could see it before starting.

As a student nurse we have placement documents to complete, which allow us to document our achievements and make goals. I find this a very effective way to learn and I believe especially in my first placement it helped me to understand what learning opportunities I had in the environment. I would advise student nurses that there are a lot of documents to complete during placement, therefore time management is key. If you have a spare five to ten minutes during your shift, ask your mentor to complete something as you never know when the shift could get very busy. Also DO NOT leave it until the last day as you will not get it all done!

We can contact our placement areas around two weeks before we start in order to get our off duty (our shifts) and to ask who our mentor will be. During the tour I had organised I got the chance to meet my mentor, which was nice as I felt more relaxed going on to the ward for my first day. 

Shift times vary; some are 7.30am-8pm (long days) others are 7.30am-1pm/1pm-8pm (earlies or lates). Also, yes, student nurses are expected to do night shifts (8pm-7.30am). I found that the majority of shifts I did on my first placement were long days. I didn't have to do any nights, however this could have changed at any time so it is important to be prepared in terms of transport, just in case.

I will not lie: during my first shift I felt very much like a lost puppy, trying to find things and not having a clue what they looked like. I had to ask for lots of help during my first week, which is absolutely fine; most professionals completely understand and were very helpful. You must ask if you are unsure, this is so important as we have vulnerable children’s lives in our hands.

My mentor and the other nurses on the ward tended to have around four to five patients during their shifts; however, some days this could be more. During my first week my mentor allowed me to watch everything he did and was constantly explaining things to me. I would suggest taking a notepad, as sometimes I would have lots to remember. I found writing it down more effective.

There was a huge variety of patients on my ward – from babies older than six weeks to 16 or 17-year-olds with learning disabilities – so every day was different. There were both surgical and medical patients on the wards, which gave me the chance to learn about both and how the documents used for them vary.

My first ever patient was a seven-year-old boy who was having an operation. I went with my mentor down to theatres and prepared him for the anaesthetic team, who then took him into theatre. When he came back we had to take observations for a few hours to ensure he was eating, drinking and passing urine. Then we were able to discharge him home. 

As a result of my first placement, I'd advise student nurses to reflect on experiences and new learning. I kept a reflection diary during which helped me to gain more from the experience. I would advise anyone on their first shift on a ward to observe; have a look around and find where things are. Ask lots of questions as it will show your mentor that you are interested. You'll also gain more from the experience.

And finally, try not to get stressed, and take your time with things. You can work at your competence level so don’t try and do things you are not able to. Enjoy it!

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The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.