As a final year children’s nursing student who has experienced numerous placements within both the hospital and community setting, in primary and secondary care, it is often useful to reflect upon the different areas and think about both positive aspects, and potentially, areas that could be strengthened to maximise the student experience.
As a student nurse, approaching and suggesting improvements can seem a daunting and somewhat challenging task. However, we are advocates for the children, young people, and the families that we support, and we strive to improve their care – so why should we not advocate for ourselves to gain the best experiences that will shape our future practice?
“We are resilient and have made huge contributions to patient care and our workplace teams”
Working alongside other student nurses on the ward, from different universities, allowed the comparing and contrasting of each student’s experience. Within one particular area, a low morale was felt by all, a sense of being unwelcome, and many students stated they would not choose to work in the area once qualified. They did not feel valued, part of the team or given the opportunities to fulfil their proficiencies.
The hierarchy within the nursing field between student nurse, staff nurse, sister, ward manager and matron may be a barrier as to why, as students, we tend to not use our voice. Perhaps the reason is that we tend to overlook our own needs and focus on the needs of others within the team, or that we simply feel too inferior to have an opinion. However, we are the future generation of nurses, those who have studied and practised in the most challenging of times throughout a pandemic. We are resilient and have made huge contributions to patient care and our workplace teams.
One morning, the senior nurse attended handover and thanked the nursing team for their continuous hard work and dedication to the children and families on the ward. Her kind words of support and empathy gave me the confidence to use my voice and reflect the student nurses’ experiences on the ward with the hope of making a positive change.
As I approached her office, the door was open and although my heart was racing, I knocked on the door. I hadn’t prepared what I was going to say but I knew, in that moment, that I wanted to make a difference. I discussed the reasons why student nurses felt undervalued and ‘invisible’ on the ward, why they didn’t enjoy the placement or value the experience.
She listened, really listened, and, as my confidence grew, I suggested how it could be improved by slight changes, adaptations, ideas and seeking students’ views and perceptions (sometimes we do know what we are talking about).
She encouraged me to create a list of suggestions, including the other students too, and a plan of action. She was enthusiastic, open, thankful, and welcomed any improvements to the area as she discussed that these changes may help solve staffing issues and attract newly qualified nurses to the area.
I felt superhuman! But why hadn’t this been raised before? Why do students often feel that they cannot have a voice, an opinion, ideas – why should they be seen but not heard (I am aware that not all placements are like this of course).
During handover the following day changes were already in place, final-year students were asked daily if they would like to build on their autonomous skills by being allocated their own patients (under supervision of nurse), taking part in medication rounds including IV medications, and invited to spend time with the ward manager and senior staff to understand senior nursing roles.
Alongside, a student pathway is being produced to maximise exposure and experiences that can be gained on the ward. Each shift staff are encouraged to seek out student nurses on the ward to ask their thoughts, feelings and any improvement suggestions were welcomed. The atmosphere is completely different among all grades of staff.
By the end of my six-week placement all the student nurses on the ward felt their experiences had improved. Some are now considering applying to the area once qualified- including myself.
My point is that my opinion counted, and it made a difference. I felt heard and my suggestions have had a positive impact. We aren’t ‘just’ students. We are the future workforce and by involving, and recognising us as equal team players, we feel valued, supported, and we will be better nurses for the patients within our care – which is what we are all striving to achieve.
Michelle Allen is a third-year children’s nursing student, Staffordshire University