The anxiety that comes with the first placement for student nurses is uncanny. This anxiety gives rise to questions such as: What department will I be placed in? Where is it located? What is the shift pattern? What is the shift time? Is there free parking, and is there a good transport link?
Once those issues are sorted, there must be an analysis of the travel distance, the childcare issues, the cost of traveling, and the time allotted to self-direct learning and keeping up to date safe medicate training. Lastly, there must be contemplation about striking a balance with student nursing, social life and familial commitments. These are all tough questions that need careful consideration.
The first two weeks are daunting. But amidst feeling intimidated and anxious there is still so much enthusiasm as the new student nurse. This enthusiasm makes one smile under the mask. I find the mask to be a haven for hiding my fear of knowing absolutely nothing. Basically, it is a kind of ‘imposter syndrome‘ With all this, when I think of nursing as a career, I sometimes wonder, should I stay, or should I go?
Though bombarded by so many questions, I often remind myself of how blessed I am to gain a place in a university and become a registered nurse. My thoughts change when I reminisce on the warmth and patience exerted by some healthcare assistants (HCAs) who the new students nurses were privileged to shadow. From my perspective as a student nurse, I implore you to learn by observing and shadowing stalwart HCAs as their knowledge of the placement setting is impeccable. The HCAs introduce student nurses to daily routines and tasks on the ward. When I think of the overwhelming support from the HCAs, I am optimistic that I will stay.
On the flip side, seeking learning opportunities from qualified staff may sometimes be challenging. This usually happens when there are not enough nurses on the wards and the nurses present are busy. It is commendable that even when a facility is understaffed, the nurses endeavour to deliver quality care to the patients. But this is often at the expense of having less time to spend with student nurses. When this happens, I feel like I am a bother when I shadow a nurse or ask a question. Also, some nurses assume that we should know the answers to all the questions we ask and are hesitant to respond to student nurses. When this happens, I wonder if should I go; if perhaps I should leave immediately before spending too much time in the programme. I become ambivalent and undecided and am torn between whether I should go or stay.
I often reflect on how demanding nursing is, especially knowing that the National Health Service is experiencing a shortage of nurses (NHS, 2022). A study conducted by the Nursing and Midwifery Council revealed that 21,800 nurses left the registrar between July 2019 to June 2020. A study in September 2021 uncovered that there were 39,813 nurse vacancies across the NHS. The low staff retention rates are worrisome. In 2018, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) reported that 60% of nurses said they are leaving the NHS because of exhaustion; 40% because they are unable to provide the patient with the high level of care that is required, not just as a moral thing to do, but also to comply with the NMC Code of conduct. These reports give rise to numerous questions and doubts about my career ahead. The main question I asked myself is: Should I just ‘bail out’ now?
I have had sessions with nurses who taught some essential clinical skills and invaluable lessons. I wish that I could have more of those one-on-one sessions. These nurses are often simultaneously bombarded with paperwork, managing the floor and ensuring that patients are cared for. My conclusion is, the NHS is always short of staff due to the nurse shortage. Consequently, I often feel that I am included as staff for that day. In other words, although I am a student nurse, I find myself embedded into the staff role with the imposter syndrome hanging over me.
Though I am only a student nurse, I refuse to sit by nonchalantly and see a HCA struggling or a nurse in need of help. It may be a simple task as
answering the phone or it may be a little more intense, for example responding to a query. Regardless of the task, I cannot stand by and observe a busy ward and not offer assistance. I must be a team player who is keen to help and willing to learn. I have values and principles and I subscribe and concur with the Nursing and Midwifery Council`s code. These remind me of how I once longed to be a student nurse; it ignites strength, passion, and hope. Though it is demanding and it is tough, I make sacrifices daily. I have a vision for my future, and to realise that vision, I have to stay.
I am under no illusions. I am quite aware that I will encounter challenges as I continue this journey. I will feel stressed and overwhelmed, and I will want to give up at times. However, I must try and balance these feelings and thoughts with more positive experiences, visions and hopes for the future. I realise that I have a voice, I can speak up, I can challenge, and I can contribute significantly to a better future. I can shape, mould and influence a brighter future, one in which the challenges we face today are confined to history. Through my actions, I can lead and encourage others so we can work together for change and improvements. We can initiate improvements for patients, staff, the student nurses who are currently undertaking their programmes, and future students nurses who, like me, will face ambivalence and feel conflicted about whether they should stay or should they go.
I have thoroughly weighed everything that a career in nursing entails and I now know that I will stay.
Soneika Atkinson is a first-year student mental health nurse at the University of Essex.