Carry Pens! And other things I learnt from my first clinical placement

1. What on earth a call bell sounds like.

Now it sounds ridiculous, but it’s those tiny details that get taken for granted and subsequently missed. Which is precisely what led me to standing in the middle of a hallway like a deer in headlights thinking what on earth is that beeping?! It can take a little bit of adjusting to get used to the hospital environment: there are so many new sights, sounds, smells. So heads up, try to be a bit less daft than I was and find out what the call bell sounds like early on.

2. Carry scissors. And tape.

I can guarantee you that there will be a point where you, or somebody around you, will need them, and they’ll be lost in that giant black hole that contains all the lost bobby pins and pens too. Speaking of which…

3. Carry a pen! Carry 600 pens!!

I am a firm believer in the idea that you can never have too many pens. Of course, they will absolutely all run out at once, but there are only so many safeguards you can apply. At least everything’s going electronic now though, right?

4. Your patients really will be patient.

For many years now, nurses have been Australia’s most trusted profession. This is actually reflected in the way the patients treat you. Sometimes you’ll have trouble getting the oxygen saturation because your patient’s hands are too cold, and sometimes you just won’t be able to find a pulse.

Don’t be scared of your patients - they want the same thing as you do; for them to recover. They won’t mind if you fumble a little bit, or take a bit longer than the RNs. They know that if you don’t practice, you won’t learn.

5. Bringing food for everyone to the break room is always a good idea.

Seriously! Healthcare is such hard work! A little something to fuel everyone will not only get you in everyone’s good books, but more importantly, will show them how appreciative you are for everything they’re teaching you. If you are a star in the kitchen then bake up a storm! When you find yourself being far too tired to cook, a Friday afternoon store bought cake is guaranteed to be welcomed with open arms. Bonus points if you can bring something healthy that still tastes good.

6. That I wasn’t going to kill anyone!

I was so anxious doing my first set of obs! Of course, I wanted to get everything perfect, but I think it helps to step back and think about what you’re doing. Stay calm, and remember that if you’re too nervous, you’re probably going to be a bit less accurate in what you’re doing. Try to relax, because by the end of the week (maybe even the shift) you’ll be so much more confident in your skills!

7. A little kindness goes a long way.

Getting on the ward for the first time is the perfect time to consolidate all the skills that you’ve learned. Blood pressures, ECGs, handovers, there’s so much to do! But it can be all too easy to forget about some of the soft skills that we learn too. So, if you have a free moment, have a chat with some of your patients and check if they need anything. Sometimes, all someone wants is someone who’ll listen, or even just a cup of tea.

8. It will be so difficult.

You’ll see some really tough things. You might even see some people die. You might cry. You might need to have forty minute showers each day when you get home so that you can make sense of everything you saw, like I did. But, in saying that…

9. It will be so much fun.

You will feel so empowered knowing that you are using the skills you’ve learnt, and knowing that even so early on, you’re already helping people and making a difference.

10. That this is what I’m meant to do.

It sounds corny, I know, but as soon as I actually got into the hospital and interacted with patients, other nurses, families, doctors, pharmacists, social workers and everyone else, I really knew that nursing was my calling. I cherished the patient interactions, I adored learning from the RNs and I was exhilarated by the problem solving I had to employ to navigate each of my days there.

And I hope you’ll feel this to.