As 2023 ended, as undertook my first placement of second year. As expected, I reflected on all that I had learnt over the last two months while on a busy children’s medical ward.
I had got to grips with high-flow oxygen support, nasogastric tubes and feeding pumps, and the array of communication skills to work with children of all ages. I had learnt about bronchiolitis and RSV, about eating disorders and different metabolic conditions.
I had the opportunity to spend a few hours with the digital innovation nurses and the service improvement nurses, learning how effective nurses can be when looking at the bigger picture.
“You can’t safely act as a student or registered nurse without the theory that we learn in university”
With all that I have learnt on placement, I questioned what learning was taking place in theory. As required by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), all students have their time split 50:50 between placement and theory, with a minimum of 2,300 hours on each over the standard three years.
This is a lot of time to be in lectures, seminars, and working independently at home and with peers. Most students I know look forward to their placement blocks, saying that this is where we do our real learning. So, what is it we are learning in theory?
One of the first things that I learnt, and possibly the most important, is what a nurse registered with the NMC is. We are introduced to the Code of Conduct, the regulations that all nurses follow and are held accountable to.
We come to realise the importance of nurses in health and social settings, and the impact we can have on care. We are taught to question the choices we make, and to use the best available evidence to support these choices.
It is not enough as a student nurse to just deliver a treatment, but we need to know fully why the patient requires that specific treatment.
This means that in our theory block, we learn how the body works. Each organ and system are studied, the anatomy and physiology taught, so that as students and registered nurses, we can identify what is normal and what is abnormal.
We learn the basics of pharmacology so we understand how the drugs we administer work and can then explain this to the patients we care for.
We learn how to find research and then critique it, analysing the articles we find. This means we can find the evidence and then question if it is the best available evidence.
As students, we are also given a safe environment to practise our skills and develop. The simulation labs allow us to practice passing an nasogastric tube or catheter, without fear of distressing our patient or causing discomfort.
We can practice having difficult conversations, and then reflect on the experience. We are able to use software to learn how to prepare medications, especially IVs which require complex calculations.
This means that when we do go out on placement, we are more prepared to deliver high-quality care, knowing we have the theory and the practice behind us.
Just as you would never be able to safely drive a car without taking your theory test, you can’t safely act as a student or registered nurse without the theory that we learn in university.
The skills and knowledge gained in theory mean that we can gather evidence, analyse it, and use it to give the best treatment to our patients and clients. We are able to practice in a safe environment then be confident in the skills we have.
It is only now as I reflect on what exactly I have learnt on theory, I realise the scale the knowledge and skills have had on the care I have given to my patients. It is in theory that I really come to understand what it means to be a nurse.