Sexual health healing: my elective placement in a GUM clinic

People coming to sexual health services experience a wide range of emotions; from embarrassment and fear to shame, guilt and anxiety. Sexual health carries with it some serious baggage and stigma that other areas of health don’t, but why is that? We wouldn’t think twice about going to the doctors for other health conditions, yet for some reason feel like we need to sneak in to sexual health clinics cloak and dagger, desperately hoping that we won’t be recognised. Sex is one of the most normal and natural things imaginable and anyone taking proactive steps to look after their sexual health should be celebrated…yet it is an area of health that many still find embarrassing or taboo.

This summer I completed a seven week placement in a sexual health clinic. I was excited to start as I’d always been interested in sexual health, but I must admit I was also a little nervous. Discussing sex openly and frankly can sometimes be just as intimidating for the healthcare professional as the patient – especially for an inexperienced student nurse still finding her feet! I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had the odd awkward moment over the placement – I struggle to hide my emotions and definitely felt my cheeks blush on the odd occasion during my first few solo interviews – but I soon realised that patients took their cues from me and the more relaxed I was, the more at ease they seemed. Before too long I was discussing STIs and sexual preferences as casually as the weather or what they had for tea last night. It was rewarding though, seeing people arrive at the clinic looking nervous, upset or worried and leave, free condoms in-hand, looking relieved and reassured. Along the way I also learnt a thing or two about the broad skills and expertise of sexual health nurses. Here is what I learned:

They can keep a secret

Confidentiality is one of the fundamental principles of sexual medicine. All staff working in sexual health, from consultants to student nurses, must sign a confidentiality agreement on entering the department. Of course this principle applies across all areas of healthcare, but it is particularly precious in sexual medicine where a patient’s right to privacy is central. Patients are not obliged to give their real name or date of birth when accessing sexual health services, nor will you hear a nurse calling people in the waiting room by their full name. Patient notes are also kept completely separate to other systems in the NHS and information will not be passed to services like GPs without consent or unless absolutely necessary. Explaining this to patients at the start of their appointment is often a good basis for gaining their trust and confidence.

They are expert communicators

Specialist sexual health and HIV nurses are incredibly skilled in taking detailed histories, asking the most personal questions imaginable, while remaining non-judgemental. Those questions can seem extremely intrusive and many people wonder why they need to share details of foreign partners, drug-taking or exactly what type of sex they had, so it takes a highly-skilled communicator to gather this information in a matter-of-fact, caring and non-judgmental way. As the interview unfolds, you can sometimes visibly see people recoil at the questions – in the cold light of day, sitting in a clinical room opposite someone in a uniform asking you about some of the most intimate parts of your life can be extremely difficult. Sexual health nurses completely understand that; they want to make the process as painless as possible, so will adopt many different communication strategies to put their patients at ease.

They know their stuff

The majority of sexual health and HIV nurses are specialists, with many years of experience and additional qualifications or training in sexual medicine. While in the past nurses in sexual health clinics would have assisted the doctors, they now work autonomously, often in nurse-led clinics. Nurses are the backbone of gentio-urinary medicine (GUM) clinics, working closely with consultants and experienced healthcare technicians. It’s a highly-skilled role that requires in-depth knowledge of sexual health conditions including their symptoms, methods of diagnosis and the latest evidence-based treatments, some of which they are now able to prescribe themselves under Patient Group Directives (PGDs). They work hand-in-hand with the doctors, undertaking the same assessments and doing the same tests and examinations. They also tend to be the clinicians delivering the treatments, from antibiotics or deep IM injections to wart freezing. They can do the whole lot.

They are un-shockable

Believe me, they have heard and seen it all. They are not there to judge your sexual behaviour and they don’t. They ask such personal questions because they want to make sure they carry out the most relevant tests, ensuring that they pick up any potential sexually transmitted infections (STI) someone could have been exposed to. Knowing whether someone has had foreign sexual parters or taken drugs, for example, can influence whether they decide to add in blood tests for hepatitis B and C. It pays to be as honest and frank as possible because it means that they do the full range of relevant tests.

They care about your physical AND mental health

WHO define sexual health as both absence of disease and healthy attitude towards sex. Sexual health nurses aren’t just concerned with detecting and treating STIs and giving out free condoms; they also play a therapeutic role, helping to ease anxieties and educate individuals about safe sex.  They can play a big part in helping someone overcome a bad sexual experience, often taking on a support and counselling role, especially nurses who choose to be sexual health advisors. Even for patinets who don’t specifically open up about their worries, you can see how a skilled sexual health nurse can make someone feel better just by being kind and matter-of-fact. Conditions like HIV of course sadly come with some of the greatest stigma and potential to impact mental health. HIV specialist nurses therefore are key in helping people come to terms with their diagnosis and cope with the wide range of emotions they may experience. They are often the first port of call for patients, sometimes being the only person that a patient has disclosed their HIV status to and feel comfortable phoning up to discuss worries and fears. As well as managing and monitoring their treatment HIV specialist nurses often become a trusted confidant, helping individuals to regain their confidence and self-worth or access local networks where they can access peer-support.

All-in-all, my placement in a sexual health clinic revealed the nursing role to be fascinating and rewarding. Sexual health nurses are a down-to-earth bunch who come into contact with people from all walks of life and use a broad range of advanced nursing skills to make a positive impact on physical and mental health. There’s a lot more to it than giving out free condoms, that’s for sure!

If you’re interested in sexual health, there are some brilliant websites out there. The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) guidelines for example share evidence-based clinical guidance for diagnosis and treatment of STIs. There are also some fantastic Manchester-based charities and organisations with a focus on improving sexual health such as Manchester Action on Street Health (MASH), a charity supporting women engaged with sex-work in Manchester; George House Trust, a charity supporting people living with HIV; LGBT Foundation, who offer sexual health testing for LGBT communities among many other services; and Sexpression Manchester a student-led organisation that offers informal sex and relationship training for young people.

Do you have an experience or reflection from placement that you would like to share with other student nurses and midwives? We think every student nurse or midwife has a unique and interesting perspective to offer so we are always keen to welcome new student bloggers to our team. If you have a story to share please do get in touch via our Facebook page @UoMPlacementProject or email 


Pearls of wisdom from the 2016 graduates!

It was great to meet so many of the third years at today’s employability conference and to the new cohort of first years a very warm welcome! We’ve been asking some of the BNurs 2016 graduates what they’ve been up to since graduation to help give you some inspiration, careers & studying advice and some reassurance that there is light at the end of the tunnel!


Gina, Chemotherapy Nurse.

grad badge

I work on a nurse led chemotherapy unit, one of the most interesting things about my job is being able to assess patients and use my own clinical judgement in providing holistic care. Rather than task oriented nursing, you’re able to work more autonomously but there’s still a lot of support available from the rest of the team. We see patients from a variety of different disease groups with different chemotherapy and immunotherapy regimes so there’s been a lot to learn over this first year! There’s also exposure to higher acuity patients and oncological emergencies so there’s a variety of clinical skills.

I’d advise current final year students not to underestimate the benefits of a good preceptorship programme! Ask about what support and training trusts can offer you as a newly qualified member of staff and it’s also worth looking at how they score on recent CQC reports. Always have a few questions prepared to ask at the end of an interview to show your interest in the role and it’s well worth organising an informal visit or arranging a phone call with the ward manager to find out more information. They’ll remember you and if offered an interview you’ll have an advantage over other candidates who didn’t show the initiative!

For first years at the start of their nursing journey, make the most of what your placements have to offer and get involved with sports and societies while you’re at uni, sometime it can feel like a struggle to balance everything but it’s important to have variety and these things will help you unwind after a hectic shift! Always show interest on placements and ask lots of questions, make sure to go to your PEF or AA with any issues and they can support you through it and improve the placement for other students in the future.21952670_10155829453445820_863942415_o

One of my proudest achievements so far was presenting a piece of research I did at the RCN Centenary conference, it was quite daunting being a student at an international research conference but I’d definitely recommend applying for things like this, there’s so many amazing opportunities out there! I’m definitely interested in research career options for the future but I also enjoy the clinical side of nursing, I don’t have any set goals for the future as there’s so many fantastic career paths out there but I’m quite interested in becoming a nurse prescriber, I’ll just have to wait and see what pans out!

Chris, Cardiology Nurse.

The most interesting thing about my job is the procedures and interventions carried out on patients. I’m currently working towards mentorship and a link nurse role and in the long term a specialist nurse role. For current third years job hunting; choose an area you find interesting to work in (for myself it was cardiology). Ensure when you prepare to interview you show your passion or interest for that speciality or area. Demonstrate your knowledge!

Some advice for first year students would be, don’t be shy. Ask lots of questions and get stuck in as much as possible when on placement. I wish I had known more abbreviations of medical terms. Advice for final year students, get on top of your dissertation early. I can’t stress this enough!

Emily, RMN on a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit.

I chose this job because I wanted a fast paced ward and it’s certainly that! It’s really interesting to see people come in very poorly but go back to acute wards much better. I see myself staying on this ward for the next 2 years or so, then hopefully moving into forensic services.

Some advice for third years’ looking for jobs is to go for something you know interests you, you’ll enjoy going to work then. Research the ward and trust before the interview, they’ll most likely ask you for evidence/scenarios to back up your answers.


Also, take time for yourself!! Although the course is full on you need to make sure you look after yourself, take the time to do it now because you won’t get it when you start work! Take it as it comes, get ahead with your dissertation, DON’T leave it until last minute. You will have enough stress in your final few months. And finally, enjoy your training, don’t let it get on top of you. It will go by quickly!

Liz, Staff Nurse on a General Surgical ward.

Something I wish I’d known when you started the course? I remember everyone complaining (including myself) how we felt like we only did obs for the first placement. This is an important skill the more you do the more efficient you become and the better you get at recognising deteriorating patients early!

Advice for current third years deciding where to work: Go to every interview you get offered they are good practice! And then if you get offered lots of jobs you have more choice.If you feel like it’s impossible or you don’t feel ready. You are ready and you can do this! There will come a time on your final placement when you wish you didn’t have to check the drug round e.t.c with someone every time. That’s when I realised I couldn’t wait to qualify!

I’m enjoying my new role, it’s very diverse and I get to use and perfect every clinical skill I could wish for, in a first job. In the future, I see myself working in the merchant navy and also on the bank in an NHS hospital. Moving from student to staff nurse is the most challenging and fun time. Enjoy it and remember to be nice to the students who, before you know it, will be your mentees!

Natalie, Surgical Triage Nurse.

I chose this area as I love Surgery and wanted to gain experience in Acute illness, emergency surgery and different surgical conditions not just one speciality.

Enjoy student life whilst you can as 2nd and 3rd year are intense. Spoke out as much as you can and make the most of the supernumerary status to learn. Make sure your work/placement/study/social life is well balanced. Seek advice where necessary.

Some interview tips for third years is to learn about policies in your chosen field, memorise the 6C’s,  and look at recent CQC reports to draw on points for why you chose their hospital/department.

Alyssa, Community Staff Nurse.

whitworth hallI am a community staff nurse, nursing patients with long term health conditions. The patients whom I care for can be under my care for years. The care that I deliver enables you to build a very strong therapeutic relationship with patients that you wouldn’t necessarily get in a hospital environment. In the future I see myself working in the community, hopefully as a district nurse.

Some tips for first years would be to follow your passion. Find something that you love and run with It! For me, that was community nursing. If you do what you love, this will show in the excellent care you give to your wonderful patients!

And for third years preparing for interviews; do lots of research about the trust you want to work at e.g. core values of the trust and the person specification for the role which you’re applying for. Phone your prospective ward prior to the interview and ask for an informal visit to get a feel for the ward/department.

Third year is tough. There will be a lot of blood sweat and tears during your final 12 months, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and if you work hard you’ll soon be wondering where your final year went! Your hard work and pure determination will pay off. Your patients will make you feel so blessed every day and I promise all your stress and worry is 1000% worth It!

Donna, ICU Nurse.

What made you choose this speciality to work in? What’s the most interesting thing about your role? I wanted to work in a dynamic and interesting area, seeing lots of different ailments and issues that people come into hospital with. I love being 1 to 1 with my patients and able to give all patient cares, being 100% involved. I get to be very involved in the patient journey and plans for their care and my opinions are respected and listened too.

Some tips for 1st year students, don’t leave everything til the last minute! 3 years might seem like a long time, but it flies by! In placement, there is something to be learnt in every situation that will develop you as a nurse and make you a safe but above all, caring practitioner.

Final year students, don’t get too wrapped up on knowing everything, no one expects you to know what you are doing when you qualify! You will get training and helped along the way by your peers! Enjoy your last few moments of student life, it’ll be over before you know it! Be proud of yourselves!

Placements aren’t the be all and end all. I did not have a placement in critical care, but still managed to get my dream job. Never let someone tell you that you can’t do it! If I can, anyone can. Whether you’re in the final phase or are just at the beginning of this journey, you have achieved something wonderful to come into this profession, especially at such an unstable time. I wish you all the best with your future endeavours, whatever they may be.

My proudest achievement so far is being able to actively be involved with my patients journey and care plan! When you start out as a fresh eyed newly qualified nurse you feel like a fish out of water, especially in such a highly specialist area as critical care! To be able to see yourself develop and be able to suggest or question a care plan with enough knowledge to back it up is a huge achievement. In the future, I’d like to progress in my role, maybe into a band 6? Who knows. But for now i’m happy to learn my specialisation and will start a level 7 course in critical care next year and begin my mentorship course!

Victoria, Critical Care Nurse in ICU & HDU.

The fast pace and quick thinking, variety of conditions I come across and complexity in illness, continuation of learning and developing new and old skills and knowledge, problem solving and the use of all my nursing skills attracted me to working in this speciality.

Some tips tips for 1st year students are to always ask and never be afraid to ask for help at any time..nurses are more willing yo help than you think, always reflect on your day it will help you throughout your career. If things get a bit too overwhelming stop, make sure you patient is safe and remove yourself from the situation and take a breather.

I’d advise third years to do what you enjoy because you’ll be passionate in providing great care to your patient. Relax and be yourself…yes, you are being interviewed, but so are your possible employers, so always go armed with questions yourself. Be organised and try to stay on to of your work. Time management is very important.

My proudest achievement so far is getting awarded a first class degree and getting the opportunities to carry on my learning to help others. In the future I’d see myself being an experienced critical care nurse and mentoring and supporting other newly qualified staff in the area to be fantastic nurses.

Enjoy every moment of your university time and career, the hard work will pay off and if you enjoy what you do it will translate in your work and the care you give your patients. Always smile, a smile goes along way and is noticed by all, patients included!

Holly, Staff Nurse in A&E.

Initially I wasn’t sure where to work and A&E provides such a variety of conditions. The most interesting part of my job is providing life saving care in resus. I want to work in A&E for a couple of years to build on my skills and confidence, but I’ve not thought past that yet!

For job hunting in third year, don’t stress about it! If you are a last minute kind of person, like myself, and your friends have all got a job lined up by December of 3rd year don’t let it panic you, I didn’t apply for jobs until the end of summer of 3rd year and still got a job well before graduation! Start the dissertation early, don’t leave it all till the last minute like I did, trust me it’s not worth the stress!

My proudest achievement so far is getting a first class degree, never thought it would happen but hard work definitely pays off. I was a mature student and found the financial side of being a student very difficult, going from working with a full time wage to do 4 years of study (I did the access course & degree) was a difficult decision and I can only imagine how hard it was for my colleagues with children, but it is so worth it. If you’re having a rough time at uni and really struggling, I used to think about my first months wages and think about what I’d treat myself to…only afforded something little after bills were paid but that felt amazing. Keep at it, 3 years seems like a long time but it goes so fast then you have a fulfilling career ahead of you.

Ellie, Mental Health Nurse in Acute CAMHS.

I chose this speciality as I really enjoy working with young people, it’s challenging at times working in an acute environment but really rewarding and enjoyable too.

I’m currently working towards becoming a student mentor as I’m still at a point where I remember how it felt to be a student, and also what it was like to have a bad mentor. I love working with students now. In the future I can see myself training to be a nurse therapist.whitworth hall (2)

Some advice for first years would be that confidence will come in time. Every skill the nurses have they learned somewhere, you can be a great nurse if you stick with it.
For current third years deciding where to work, don’t be disheartened by everyone else saying they have jobs (there’s lots of quiet people who don’t)! I felt like I was one of the last ones to get a job and I ended up getting one in my ideal speciality – it made me glad I got rejected for the ones I wasn’t actually too fussed about!

Do I have any advice for current students on managing their final year? It ends! Joking aside, it really does. You’ve got this guys. Honestly, finishing a nursing course at University of Manchester is one of my proudest achievements so far. It is genuinely one of the most academically rigorous courses out there.

Nina, Paediatric A&E Nurse.

I loved A&E since my third year placement.  The most interesting thing about my job is that I work in a major trauma centre in London and get to see a wide range for illnesses and injuries. In the future I can see myself doing a management role or being an Advanced Nurse Practitioner.

Some advice for new students would be to get stuck in with placement! Take opportunities and involve yourself. For current third years deciding where to work; pick somewhere you have a passion for or want to learn more about!

Julia, Community Dementia Nurse.

grad bannerPersonal experiences made me want to work in elderly and dementia care, I felt I had a basic understanding of what a patients family are going through and help me to support them better.

I’d advise current students to speak up on placement and be questioning… ask why was this or that done a certain way whilst on placement. For third years job hunting, go with something you feel slightly confident with. For managing your final year, stay organised till dissertation is done! Don’t be afraid to start from scratch again if needed.

My proudest achievement so far is making patients smile and getting thank you cards from families I’ve helped. In the future I see myself doing exactly what I’m doing now! Just more knowledgeable at it!

You never stop learning, transition isn’t that bad, but remember you are accountable which is scary but don’t let that stop you from holding hands up if something goes wrong. Support is out there. You learn from your mistakes.

If you graduated from the UoM BNurs cohort in 2016 and want to contribute your experiences of your first year since qualifying to this article please use the contact form below.

Likewise if you’re a current student and want to get involved with the placement peer support project or write a guest post on a particular placement or topic that interests you, please drop us a line! We’d love to hear from you!


Welcome all first year student nurses and midwives – you made it!!

So here you are – not only have you made it to the University of Manchester, you have nailed your first week as a student nurse or midwife!! All of your hard work has paid off and you are well on your way towards those coveted blue uniforms. I’m sure you’ve heard it a hundred times already, but the three years truly do fly by. handshake

Your head is probably swirling with a whole range of thoughts and emotions, from excitement and determination to nerves and apprehension for the challenge ahead. Well rest assured, although you will have some difficult times over the next three years (we’ve all had our fair share of teary moments!) you will also meet some absolutely incredible people, see things you couldn’t imagine and come out the other side a stronger, more resilient person – and ultimately a brilliant nurse or midwife!

For now, your main focus is making new friends, getting to know Manchester and getting to grips with the academic side of nursing – all very important! For student nurses in particular, placement isn’t yet on your radar – though I’m sure you are raring to get out there are start the real-life business of nursing and midwifery. Naturally you may have some anxieties or fears…and questions…lots of questions. That’s where we come in. We are a group of student (and some now qualified!) nurses and midwives who want to help you make the most out of your placements. Having been in your shoes ourselves we know how nerve-racking (and often overwhelming) the prospect of going out into practice for the first time can be, so we started this project to give fellow student nurses and midwives informal support, information and advice based on our personal experiences.

If you’re wondering what to expect on placement and the types of experiences you may encounter, I encourage you to take a look at our dedicated blog – written by students, for students. On there you will find over 150 blogs covering everything from practical advice on how to survive your first night shift or which shoes to buy (I say Clark’s Unloops…they’re the ugliest shoes you’ve ever seen, but my god are they comfy!) to personal reflections on topics including mental healthend of life care, miscarriage and nursing in challenging conditions overseas. You will also find our ‘Placement Survival Pack’ filled with a wealth of information to help you prepare for placement. DISCLAIMER: We are busily updating the ‘Survival Pack’ for 2017/18, so watch this space – we be sharing the latest edition with you before you go out on placement so you are fully prepared.

For those of you keen to share your own experiences as a student nurse or midwife, we would love to hear from you! We think every student nurse or midwife has a unique and interesting perspective to offer and would love to find new bloggers to join our team. To get involved, simply email or send us a message on Facebook, just find us by searching ‘Student Nurse & Midwife Placement Project’.

You will be hearing from us throughout the year – but in the meantime we wish you all the very best of luck at the start of your nursing and midwifery journey! xx

Freshers…all fresh faced and in information overload!

Welcome freshers…..WELCOME! To all the first year student midwives (and nurses)…welcome:-)

You are probably feeling a little overwhelmed with information? You are trying to settle into a new room/house/city if you’ve left home, getting to grips with MyManchester/ Blackboard, meeting new people, finding your way around campus, trying to work out how to fit in all your study skills & core skills, finding your way to campus and battling traffic for 9am lectures, trying to find somewhere to eat which doesn’t involve queuing for half an hour…. etc etc! I am feeling slightly panicky just reading that back! I am not here to throw more information at you just to guide you gently in a supportive direction!


I am going to give you a few tips to get through the next few weeks of block uni before you head out on placement:

  1. The huge amount of information you are being given is just that…….MASSIVE! Don’t panic. Use your independent study as timetabled and give yourself one whole day off at the weekend where you do NO studying at all. Do something you love on this day! Your brain needs time to consolidate the huge amount of learning and information you are taking on board. Cramming more and more information in constantly is counter productive. Have a day off, do something you enjoy, spend time with friends and chill. You will be more refreshed starting again the following day.
  2. Eat properly! You are freshers and it’s the first time away from home for some of you. Midwifery is not a ‘normal’ degree where you are in lectures 11 or so hours a week! You need to be in good health and that means taking care of yourself physically (as well as psychologically!) to ensure you can maintain the required high energy levels to sustain you through the next 3 years of this degree.
  3. On the same note-get plenty of sleep! Go out and enjoy yourselves but allow time to recover properly…burn out is a huge issue on this degree so start as you mean to go on by resting plenty and being sensible with drinking alcohol! I am hiding my eyes as I write that as I know I sound like an old lady/mum (I am both!) but you can still go out and enjoy yourselves but don’t go out every night and ensure you rest!

drunk penguin





4. Try not to look too far ahead…..get through today’s lectures learning as much as you can and do the extra study but try not to worry about what needs doing tomorrow. After this first 6 weeks you will be on placement where you will only be in university 2 days per week (with the associated independent study/extra reading) so this is a really intense period of learning compared to the rest of your degree. See these next few weeks as the foundations being laid for what is to come. You are first years, you are not expected to know everything (we are never expected to know everything but certainly  not as first years!).

5. Be KIND to yourselves, be KIND to your cohort (believe me…they will get you through the next 3 years as few people outside of this degree understand the intensity!) and use us (the 2nd/3rd years, your PASS leaders and all support mechanisms out there!) we are here to help and we want to help.

Go forth and immerse yourselves in the adventure you are embarking on! xx


My ‘lollipop moment’

Have you ever had your life changed, even just a little bit, by a total stranger?

Several months ago, my boyfriend showed me a TED Talk called Everyday Leadership. The premise of this talk is about ‘lollipop moments’, when a stranger makes a difference to your life. The speaker, Drew Dudley, was lucky enough to be told by the person he helped, and how much of a difference he made to her life. The really interesting point that Drew also makes is how we often don’t realize that we make these differences to people!

I had my ‘lollipop moment’ today, at the Freshers fair whilst I was working at a stall. A woman approached the stall with her friend, and recognized me immediately. She told me that I had talked to her before her nursing interview this year, and helped her feel a little bit less nervous. I didn’t remember this moment until she reminded me!

I think the concept of ‘lollipop moments’ applies to nursing really well. Although it may sometimes feel as though we are endlessly doing paperwork and working in areas horrendously understaffed, we are making a difference. Somewhere in the world, you have changed somebody’s life for the better, just by doing what you love!

Have you ever had a lollipop moment, or did someone change your life for the better? Let us know by commenting, tweeting us or write your own blog post and submit it to

Nursing behind bars: Q&A with student nurse, Laura, who shares her prison placement experience

One of the incredible things about nursing is that it is one of the few professions that reaches people in every part of society. This includes prisons which could arguably be considered one of the most challenging environments in which to nurse. Earlier this year student nurse Laura Golightly (pictured) was among a handful of student nurses to be placed at a prison in Manchester. We are delighted to share this Q&A with Laura who describes her experience working alongside the prison nursing team, including the daily challenges but also the huge variety of nursing skills and confidence she gained from this rewarding placement.Laura pic

What originally drew you to applying for a placement in a prison?

I have always had a fascination with prisons since growing up and watching compelling documentaries made by influential documentary makers like Louis Theroux. For many people, and certainly for me, this sub-section of society living their life behind bars in massive secure institutions was really intriguing and something that I felt I could have no real concept of. The reality of life within prison is often something that’s kept very private from the general public, including the mental and physical health problems faced by inmates and the concept of institutionalisation, this threw up some really interesting and thought provoking societal questions about the effectiveness of the prison system as a whole which I really wanted to explore, not only as a health professional, but on a human level also. It had really been a desire of mine to work within a prison, safe guarding very vulnerable members of society, before the opportunity even arose so when I saw the email detailing the placement, I knew I would do everything in my power to secure it.

How did you feel when you arrived for your first day?

I was completely overwhelmed when I first stepped foot into the prison for my first day. Starting a new student placement can be intimidating at the best of times, I’m often left feeling anxious about meeting the staff, performing up to standard, not knowing enough and many of those little worries that seem to occupy your head before starting a new placement. There is certainly plenty to consider turning up on your first day so then to be turning up to a huge Victorian building which seems to dwarf even such vast city centre buildings surrounding it, complete with barbed wire running around the parameter and prison staff greeting you with a sharp eye and a pat-down, well it certainly puts things into perspective. The first day my mentor took me into the grounds and gave me the grand tour, we discussed what general day to day life is working within the prison and he soon made me feel at ease. I have to say though, it did come as a bit of a surprise when we discussed this over a coffee and he pointed out to me that the staff serving us in the café were actually inmates.

What was your daily routine like on placement? Describe an average day.

There was no real average day within the prison, this was one factors I particularly enjoyed about the placement! There are three main areas to work and these are on reception, on the health care unit and on inpatients. The role is vastly different on all three which was fantastic for bringing variety to the role as nurses were rotated throughout the week. On reception we would take care of the medications for all inmates leaving for court or being transferred out and we would medically ‘fit’ them for departure, we would then also take care of all inmates being transferred in, this was the really interesting part. We would conduct an assessment with the patient discussing their past medical history, recording observations, their general contact details, the reason they have come to prison, their mental health, health promotion advice and some screening tools, this was their first point of contact with the medical team so there is usually a fair amount to cover and they would have a follow up within the first 72 hours to once again check in on them and discuss anything they may need to add since their first assessment. A day on the health care unit would consist of giving the meds for a specified wing (which could often take hours with the cocktail of meds some inmates are on) and then reporting back to the health care unit to complete the clinics for the day. There was an afternoon clinic and a morning clinic within this prison and these would often be clinically very similar to a GP surgery clinic. There would be many different health professionals running specialist clinics also such as psychiatric, counselling, smoking cessation, sexual health, BBV, dentistry, optometry and more, just as you’d expect to see in the community. The inpatient unit was quite different all together as these were the extremely vulnerable patients, it mainly consisted of mental health nurses and prison officers who were specialised to deal with the kind of inmate that presented in the unit. It was nothing like what I could have imagined, with huge solid metal doors, no windows, rooms without anything at all inside, no real equipment and it seemed to be constantly deafening with lots of screams and shouts from inmates. On top of all this there was the emergency response radio one nurse would have responsibility for, this would be used to request emergency medical first response. While I was on placement I attended these calls for a range of incidents such as fights, overdoses, inmates high on illicit drugs, cardiac and respiratory disturbances and mental health crises.

What kind of clinical skills were you able to practice with the prison nursing team?

The clinics were fantastic for practicing clinical skills, with lots of hands on experience being available. ECGs, dressings, injections, wound closure, suture removal and observations were all common practice. Every morning and afternoon there was the opportunity to complete the medications round also and due to the vast opportunity for spokes within the prison I also managed to complete a mental health assessment, smoking cessation assessment and observe the work of the specialist drug and alcohol team.

What do you think are the most challenging aspects of prison nursing?

The most challenging aspect of nursing within the prison for me was the prison regime itself. Many individuals within the prison have very low wellbeing for obvious reasons. To prison staff they are inmates, however to medical staff they are patients, this creates a very tricky dynamic when it comes to dealing with their needs. Being unable to encourage patients with activities to promote wellbeing was very difficult, I struggled to encourage patients to be active when they are only entitled to one hour in the yard a day and they are kept locked up in their cell for such prolonged periods of time. I struggled to encourage patients to connect with loved ones when they are only allowed a certain amount of visitation and many of the relationships the prisoners keep are strained due to their absence from home. I struggled to encourage learning when often classes are full up with long waiting lists and staffing levels inappropriate for the level security needed. The problem with prisons is that they aren’t therapeutic environments and this creates a vicious cycle that many vulnerable people fall victim to.

What did you enjoy most about your placement in a prison?

I can honestly say I enjoyed everything about the placement. The staff were all fantastic, great fun, welcoming and always happy to teach, my student colleague on placement with me was lovely, the prisoners were generally very polite and interesting to talk to. Being exposed to all the different healthcare sectors and how they are applicable to the prison community, highlighting the different demands of this small sub-section of the outside population was fascinating and I learnt how to deal with a patient who’s needs were often vastly different than what I was exposed to in my general training so it was fantastic to gain this different and unique experience.

What I really want to get across to nurses that would potentially consider a career within the prison service is that it really is a fantastic and unique experience. Often patients have very complex needs and this can lead to a really exciting and challenging working environment which really allows you to make a difference for your patients. Many of my friends and family thought I was stupid for wanting a placement they perceived as so ‘dangerous’, I really want to communicate how safe I felt in there. The prison officers are very well trained and experienced and look after the safety of the medical staff absolutely superbly. Do not be discouraged by fears of safety as officers are always on hand to assist you and will never leave you alone with a prisoner. Security measures in there are top priority for prison management and you’d never be left to work in an unsafe environment. If you have a keen interest in working with challenging individuals and nursing in a holistic and non-judgmental manner with a particular interest in mental health then the prison environment could be just right for you.

Thank you, Laura! It is fascinating and valuable to hear from other student nurses and midwives working in all kinds of different placement areas. If you have an placement experience or reflection that you would like to share on our blog, please do get in touch! Find us on Facebook @UoMPlacementProject or email

You’re a Qualified Nurse!


You have graduated! You are now a qualified nurse! 

Yes those three years that felt very long at times have flown by and you’ve passed your last multiple choice exam and written your last essay and possibly lost the will to live writing your dissertation out.

And if you’re fortunate enough you’ve got a new job starting very soon or maybe you’ve already started.

Image result for omg

Again, those differences with your peers stand out as some take to being an employed qualified nurse like a duck to water… others are petrified still. The thought of being responsible and held accountable for all your actions and everything that happens to your patients!?! We are all different remember and every trust and team are different and work in different ways

You should be on a preceptorship in your new role which allows you to settle in. You should build up at your own pace your confidence in the role you now have. Your workload should be lighter than your work peers and you should have a preceptor to support you through.

There should be contacts and time available in your shift/daily routine to allow you to reflect and give you time to learn all about your specific responsibilities and how the other teams around you work to support your patient on their journey.

As with being a student nurse – don’t be afraid to ask, no question is daft. Make sure your team know your strengths and your weaknesses so they can support you effectively. Use your preceptorship time as an opportunity to explore other departments, you should be allowed time to learn from them to – a bit like spokes still but with a more focused view and outcomes set.

Change can be good but sometimes things don’t always go to plan. You may find yourself not enjoying your new role as much as you’d thought or you may find something new you didn’t know existed out there. Be honest with yourself and seek support from your preceptor. People do move jobs in their first 12 months. It’s better for you and your patients if you a comfortable in your role.

Supervision should be part and parcel of your nursing role giving you a chance to discuss events or patients that you need support with or after. Some places will offer peer support sessions too where you can discuss thoughts and experiences with people in a similar position as yourself. Try and keep preceptorship time separate from this, preceptorship is about you and your learning not your caseload specifics. Every work place will have various tasks, limits and time frames on preceptorships, so don’t worry if others are getting signed off and you’re not. Take your time and make the most it… trust me!

Remember your portfolio? Certificates and reflections etc, keep it up. Use your skills to carry on and show your lifelong learning. It will make revalidation so much easier when your time come, one thing us new nurses have the advantage of now.

Being a newly qualified is far from easy but remember this is just the start of a new journey, keep your eyes and ears open, don’t forget to ask, question and don’t be afraid to suggest new ideas too – remember you are fresh from university with perhaps a more update focus, a new pair of eyes etc.

Continue to strive for the best for your patients and yourself!

Related image