I like to think I have a world of knowledge when it comes to nursing and what it takes in regards to the life of a nursing student, being lodged somewhere in the two hemispheres of my brain. Hard to believe it but there was a time when I wasn’t able to breath, let alone recite information on the human brain and didn’t possess the knowledge I now have. This desire of wanting to know saw me searching for answers to the questions I was asking and not surprising, I found them on a ward and on my first clinical placement.
Never having received the memo as to what you should expect for your first clinical placement, I rocked up with the idea of what nursing was going to be like and that wonderful, bright moment lasted for approximately 10 minutes. Before being rudely sucked back down to the earth. What had brought me down to earth in a quick and solid thrust wasn’t a patient’s family member crying on my shoulder.
Nope, it was the spine tingling fear that had me freezing while leaning over a patient as the thought of, ‘Shit! I think I just got my period!’ entered my mind.
It was in that moment of scrambling through old gum wrappers and pieces of paper with notes scribbled, I discovered there wasn’t that lone strangler of a tampon floating around the bottom of my handbag. What made the awkwardness even more awkward, it was my first day on placement and I didn’t feel comfortable asking a fellow female student, “hey, do you have a tampon?”
So after four years of study, countless clinical placement undertaken and hundreds of periods, I think my knowledge of the toilet block and unplanned periods is pretty extensive. Considering I’m about to graduate and hang up my SRN title, I thought it was time for that darn memo to come out and help out a fellow Student Nurse on what you need to bring for your next clinical placement.
A Nurse’s Bag.
I found after carrying around a handbag for a couple of placements that it didn’t hold up to my expectation or requirements. After having a serious chat with my Fairy Godmother, I received my satchel messenger bag (pictured) as a Christmas present and since then, this bag has travelled with me to and from college and placement.
It has been used as a shield in torrential rain and as protection in hail storms and surprisingly, my bag has definitely held up its end of the bargain when crammed with folders, books, textbooks and computer. The reason why I prefer to use a satchel bag over a handbag simply boils down to how much paperwork, folders and nursing equipment I carry. Plus it doesn’t put strain on my back which is fantastic after spending 8 hours leaning over patients. So if you’re like me and have to carry around a lot of paperwork, I suggest picking a bag that works to your taste, fits you comfortably and doesn’t put additional strain onto your lower back and accommodates your needs.
Notebook & Folder.
For placement, all of the hospitals I’ve attended in Queensland, Australia have required/requested their SRN’s to carry documents such as certificates. I’ve found after making the mistake of simply placing my documents in my bag and later handing over a crumpled piece of paper, carrying a folder is a lot easier. It helps with carrying a large amount of certificates, course outline of what can and cannot be done and reports received from buddy nurses. Plus it saves you panicking while registering your interests for employment down the track.
For notebooks, I recommend a hard backed one as they are a God send when having to do hand-over notes and you don’t have something to lean on. Besides being used as something to lean on, a notebook can be used to write down diagnosis and conditions that you don’t understand or need to learn about. For me personally, I’ve broken up my notebook into sections such as: ward diagnostics that it is known for such as Cardio ward & Heart conditions, medications commonly used and any information I’ve looked up while on placement.
With each clinical placement undertaken, they are titled with the ward, dated and lined at the end of each shift for future references and assignments.
Because I am a major germaphobe when it comes to sharing medical instruments like stethoscopes, I prefer to use my own. I’ve found after looking for a stethoscope on a ward and the doctors are using them, it can be pretty difficult to locate one. So if you haven’t done so, I suggest thinking about purchasing your own.
As some of us may not be employed or have a large amount of savings, why not ask friends/family if they’d consider pooling in some money and buying you a stethoscope? Unlike some pretty cool gadgets we will get to work with on the wards, your stethoscope doesn’t have to be an expensive one to start off with but as long as it does the job, that’s all that matters. If you have thought about purchasing one, there are plenty of stethoscopes available on the market but you are like me and don’t know where to start, I suggest going to your college textbook shop and see if they sell them there.
For those who can’t justify purchasing such an instrument, there will be countless moments where you’ll need to do a manual blood pressure as the machine isn’t picking it up or a doctor will need to ‘borrow’ it whilst attending a met call (code blue). Prices of stethoscopes can vary depending on what brand and style you’re looking at but the most expensive I’ve seen is 80 dollars (Aus) and that’s when I brought it back in first year.
Finally, I recommend getting a single tubing instead of a dual tube simply because a dual stem can apply alot of pressure on your shoulders and neck. This often can cause headaches, neck and shoulder tension and irritability of your skin.
When it comes to placement and the weird hours you’ll start to keep, there will be times when you’re attending a patient and think to yourself, ‘did I put deodorant on this morning?’ Trust me for I know from personal experience with my whacked out hours of placement, that it is possible in forgetting to apply deodorant.
Carrying around deodorant in your bag will not only save both you and your patient the embarrassment of smelling BO but it will make you less self conscious when you arrive on your ward and discover you did indeed forgot to apply. Just remember that it’s okay because we’re human beings and we tend to make mistakes, so don’t sweat it (pun intended).
Deodorant also comes in handy if you wear stockings and have zapped a few patients. Roll it over your stockings, rub it in and viola, no more static.
Tampons & Feminine Hygiene Products.
Now when I’m not worrying about deodorant and forgetting to apply, the next thought that enters my mind when it feels like my stomach has dropped is the dreaded thought of ‘did I just get my period?’.
Having been blessed with irregular menstrual cycles that can see me in bed for the first three days, I have always dreaded getting my period while on placement. It isn’t the thought of cramps, period pain and delightful aborting of an unfertilized egg that has me fearing for the end of humanity. Instead, dealing with a sporadic period has been and will continue to be my least favourite thing about placements.
Due to lack of sleep, the wide range of emotions often experienced on placement and uptake in our physical exercise, our body goes into shock and we may end up with a bloody mess. As a sister from another mister, there is nothing worse than having to do the rolled up toilet paper dash to the nearest shop to buy tampons so I recommend buying a months supply of product and popping it into your bag.
Because you never know when you might be asked, “do you have a spare tampon?”
Gum & Snacks
One of the many things I’ve discovered I can’t live without while on placement is a mixture of snacks and gum. There have been plenty of times in my clinical shifts that I’ve suffered headaches that have been caused from hunger or dehydration. Since clinical shifts are built on being active from the moment hand-over is given to the moment you finish your shift to give you an understanding of a ‘normal’ working day, there will be times of suffering headaches, dehydration and hunger.
As a result, I’ve found having snacks on hand to be amazing as they can be simply popped into a mouth and be munched on whilst walking out of the staff room. For snacks, I keep a small amount of unsalted cashew nuts in a bag, fresh fruit cut up into small slices and sliced raw vegetables with hummus. If I’m not able to find time to eat my snacks than I pop in a piece of gum and chew on that until I can duck into the staff room.
Hunger and headaches can also be a result of not having another fluids in your body so I suggest buying a large bottle of water and drinking that throughout your shift. Fluids will help with replenishing lost electrolytes and water molecules that are often sweated out when we are moving from patient to patient and because of the warmer temperatures on the ward.
One of the many things you shall learn on placement are nurses tend to ‘borrow’ pens and never return them. In my years of study, I’ve seen countless students hover over a nurse’s shoulder so they can get their pen back and as for a doctor, you can kiss that pen goodbye for you will probably never see it again. My suggestion that will stop you from being that annoying student who hovers is to purchase a bunch of cheap black pens so if you do borrow or misplace one, you aren’t going to grieve for its return.
If you don’t wish to buy a ton of black pens than my other suggestion, which has been recommended from other nursing students, is to buy a pen that has four different coloured inks. I’ve seen nursing students and nursing buddies over the last few years, whip out these bad boys and use each colour for a different purpose such as: red means hand over notes, green is what’s happened during the shift, blue is doctor notes/observations and black is for progress notes. Like my high school history teacher told me “KISS” or in other words: keep it simple stupid.
Fob Watch w/ two hands
The most important thing you will need to purchase throughout your lifetime of being a nurse is a watch with two hands. One of my lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way after being told off is to pack your watch and when finished a shift, put it back into your bag. I noticed during my last placement that a lot of the ward bays didn’t have a clock so when it came to taking obs, they can’t be performed if you don’t have a watch.
If you’re like me and noticed the battery to the watch has died, I suggest making friends with the students on your ward because they are going to be your sources of knowledge, entertainment and comfort whilst on placement. Once having gotten over that awkward meeting on the first shift and becoming friends, see if they aren’t doing obs and borrow their watch. There have been more times than one, I’ve found myself doing this and each time, they have been a God send.
A positive attitude
One of the final lessons I’ve learnt when it comes to placement is how important it is to have a friendly and positive attitude. I have witnessed and been told of students who’ve been less than pleasant towards patients and as a result, have had patient’s families complain to myself and our facilitator about attitudes. If you think its just family members and patients who observe than you are wrong because staff members, doctors and our facilitator will have eyes and ears watching and observing how we act, socialise and perform as student nurses.
So if you do find yourself not being able to handle the situation than I recommend excusing yourself and taking a couple of minutes to pull it together. Whether you go for a walk to check on another patient, check the schedule or go to the bathroom, use these moments to reflect, regather and refocus on your goals and expectations you wish to complete during placement. However if you aren’t able to leave the situation than I recommend taking a breath, waiting until the moment has passed and thanking the person for their comment.
Just remember it isn’t okay to verbally or physically attack someone because they have a different opinion or are making recommendations to how you interact with people. Like the Penguins said from Escape To Madagascar, “Smile and wave boys. Just smile and wave”.
This has been your memo of want you need to bring for your next placement and Dearest Nursing Student, I wish you all the best and good luck with your upcoming placement.
Until next time,
~S (SRN, 2016)