What to take on your first ever day of placement

Planning for placement can be tricky when going for the first time. Having had no healthcare experience prior to my first placement on an elderly medical ward, I had no idea what to expect or what I might need to bring with me for my first shift. Two years on, there are now staple items I never leave for placement without. Aside from the essential lip-balm and hand cream, here are my top tips on what to bring for your first shift:

Directions to placement google maps

Your first challenge of the day is to get to placement safely and on time, which could involve an early morning trek across Manchester. If you’re familiar with Manchester, or have had a test run, this should be a doddle, but if not, it’s a good idea to make sure you know the address of your placement as well as making a note of the bus times or directions – just to avoid a panicked Google search at 6am on your first day. I’d also make a note of the phone number of your placement, just in case you are delayed for any reason and need to let them know. Our Student Nurse Survival Pack has some helpful advice on planning your journey.

Pens, LOADS of pens! 

pexels-photo-261591.jpegAs you soon discover, pens are like precious gold-dust in the NHS. Everyone from nurses to patients will ask to borrow your pens and it’ll be a miracle if you ever see them again. Definitely don’t take your favourite fountain pen or any expensive stationary because it won’t hang around for long. My suggestion is to buy a big stash of cheap pens with the clicky tops that you can keep in your bag, so even if all yours go walkies, you’ll have a back-up. Alternatively, as every student or registered nurse knows, if you ever see free pens on offer TAKE AS MANY AS YOU CAN! They should always be black ink though, as it’s the only colour we can use to document in patient notes. I also chuck a highlighter or two into my pocket as I find this handy for highlighting key details on the handover sheet.

A pocket-sized notebook

A lovely friend who is already a registered nurse gave me this tip before my first placement: “make sure you take a notebook”. It is one of the best practical tips I’ve had as a student and I follow it to this day. So many things will crop up during a shift that you might want to look-up when you get home or remember, so it’s really handy having a notebook there to quickly jot down your thoughts to remind you later. I’ve also used mine to write reflections on the bus home or simply note down a set of observations or phone message if my handover sheet is covered in writing. I bought pack of small notepads and take a fresh one for each placement and they have been a godsend.

Fob watchfob watch

I’m sure you’re all sorted with this one already – the fob watch is one of the iconic pieces of nursing uniform – you’ll feel like a proper nurse when you pin it on for the first time! As well as making you look like a nurse, it is also an invaluable piece of nursing equipment that helps you measure vital signs like pulse and respiration rate as well as keep track of the time, a very important skill to master as you progress through your training. Whether you have an expensive fob watch given to you by friends and family or a freebie from the nursing fair, it doesn’t matter too much – you will use this every single shift and feel lost without it on days you might forget it. You’ll know you’ve starting to assimilate to the nursing life when you go to check your fob watch instead of wrist to tell the time outside of placement!

A diary

pexels-photo-733857.jpegA piece of advice from a chronically disorganised person approaching her thirtieth year on this planet: invest in a diary. Preferably in January.  As you may have already learnt, there is so much to juggle on a nursing degree – uni, assignment deadlines, exams, placement, family commitments, paid work, a social life (god forbid!) – meaning that things can come unstuck pretty fast without a bit of organisation. In first year it soon became clear that my usual ‘keep-things-in-my-head-and-pray-nothing-clashes’ approach was not going to work. A simple diary saved my sanity and probably a few friends who were sick of me double booking. The more tech-savvy among you will have this covered with phone calendars etc but I find a good old-fashioned hardback diary works best – I always take this with me to placement so I can plan my ‘off-duty‘ (nursing word for rota) with my mentor and spokes in advance, making sure this fits around uni and other commitments.

FOODpacked lunch

As someone who thinks about food almost all day, I can not emphasise this enough – take a packed lunch with you to placement! Breaks are often short (typically 30 minutes) and the last thing you want to do is run across a large hospital or find a nearby shop to buy an overpriced lunch which you have to wolf down on the way back. You’ll want to spend as much as your break as possible relaxing (ideally sitting down) and recharging for the next part of your shift, so it’s a good idea to bring something with you like a sandwich, last night’s leftovers or even a can of soup so that it’s one less thing to worry about. Most placement areas will have access to a microwave so you’ll be able to heat up something up, though this may be trickier for anyone on district/community placements where you might be out and about. It took me a good few months to get into the habit of packing my lunch, but it has saved me loads of money and hassle meaning I can now fully enjoy my breaks. Invest in a sturdy lunch box and large re-usable water bottle – it’s so easy to get dehydrated when you’re running around on a hot ward, but having a bottle there reminds you to drink. Our blog on healthy eating also has some good tips.

Identification and clinical skills training certificates

Some placements require you to bring along some kind of identification, like your student card, for your first shift. I had a placement in sexual health, for example, that needed to see my student ID on my first day as part of their confidentiality policy – while you might need it for other placements in order to be given a Trust ID badge. Your university name badge is also essential and will help staff and patients get to know you and remember your name – they’ll have no excuse for calling you ‘the student’! Our induction checks on PARE also require our mentor to see evidence of mandatory training like basic life support that you will have done in clinical skills, so it is a good idea to either bring these along or take pictures of them to show your mentor so that they can sign this off.

What NOT to take

As well as thinking about what to take on your first day, it’s also helpful to know what not to bring. The main thing here is any valuables like a purse or laptop. Some placement areas might be able to offer you a spare locker but many won’t and I’ve sadly heard of student nurses whose valuables have been stolen from communal changing/break rooms which can sometimes be left unlocked. While this is really rare, I wouldn’t take the risk – I leave my purse or any other valuables at home and just bring my bank card and a small amount of cash, which I keep with me in the top pocket of my uniform – just remember to take it out when you get home, so it doesn’t go in the wash! If you need to bring a tablet with you for completing your OnlinePARE for example, just let your mentor know and I’m sure they’ll be able to find a secure place to lock it away.

So there’s a run down of my top items to take on your first day of placement. Of course, as you progress through your training you’ll find that other items become handy in different placement areas – like alcohol gel in the community, a pen torch in A&E, a pair of blunt-ended scissors on wards or a stethoscope for wards that measure manual blood pressure – but these key items will help you start off on the right foot. With a little bit of pre-planning you can arrive at placement feeling totally prepared and ready to nurse – good luck!

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Healthy Eating-YES you can!

Since starting Nursing I feel I have been unintentionally gaining unwanted weight and with each academic year I promise myself this year will be different. And we all know how New Year resolutions turns out (sad, but true). I use to be great at meal prepping and avoiding junk food. After my night shifts and the ridiculous long hours I started to feel tired, stressed and would skip meals or ate whatever was easiest at the time (most of the time it was junk food *sigh*). I stopped cooking (which I love to do), I did not stick to my usual routine of eating (big breakfast, medium lunch and smaller dinner), instead I would skip all meals and eat one large meal when I got home at 9PM (yes, very unhealthy eating at that time) and that meal could sometimes be just toast (once i ate 8 pieces of toast within a 24 hour period *ashamed*). Then in the morning I would be so HANGRY (hungry & angry) because I want to eat but don’t have time to eat. At times I would come home from a long day, knowing I have a 04:30am start the next day I would make a decision: to eat, to shower, to sleep? and most of the time it was to sleep.

But this September I decided enough was enough and did something about it. These are my five tips to eating healthy/better and working a 12 hour shift (night shifts are the worst for eating properly- its so easy to eat nonsense, especially when staff bring in quick food to munch on).

#1 MAKE LUNCH: During first year I use to cook lovely delicious healthy meals and bring in nutritious snacks and occasionally a cheeky chocolate bar. I bought a new lunch box, wrote out a meal plan for the week and stuck to it. (most of my time is spent thinking about what to eat). Plus I get to use my half hour (if that) to actually sit and eat properly rather then going to a shop to get a sandwich (that I do not want) and eat quickly in ten minutes.

#2 ALWAYS MAKE LUNCH THE NIGHT BEFORE: you will never wake up early (earlier rather) to make your lunch. I have lied to my self more than I can count, I’d rather sleep then eat (as we have already established :-p). You are always to tired before work to cook anyway. I suppose for night shifts it is a little easier.

#3 DRINK WATER: I keep a 1 litre of water with me all the time. I am continuously drinking. This not only keeps you hydrated but also stops you from snacking on biscuits/chocolates.  To be honest, water is my answer to everything! It reduces my headaches, my cravings and keeps me focused. Not to mention how great water is for your skin. It keeps you less stressed through the day as you are hydrated and makes you feel full (so you don’t get HANGRY).

#4  NEVER SKIP MEALS: As I have mentioned I have a huge tendency to do that. It is easy to skip meals when you are in a busy working environment. Make time to eat, you owe that to yourself. If you can not got for a lunch break, keep fruits, granola bars with you and munch on them as you write your nursing notes. If you skip meals, you go home hungry and feel you can eat your whole fridge.

#5 AVOID JUNK: Easier said than done, I know. But if you remove junk from your household and do not buy them when you are out then you will avoid the excess sugar and fat. I’ve started to buy lots of fresh fruit and veg, from continuously eating such food you can change your cravings and habits. I really believe that the more your eat healthy the more your body wants healthy food. Once I was addicted to carrots and hummus, I would keep a bag of carrot sticks and a pot of hummus with me all the time because I craved it.

Bottom line. You can eat healthy whilst being a nurse. Bring healthy snacks with you to munch throughout the day. Try to have your lunch halfway through your shift (I know that can be difficult). When patients give the staff chocolates to say thank you, be careful with your hand because it will have a mind of its own and you will end up eating one to many! I truly believe that a healthy nurse is an efficient nurse, it will allow you to be always on your ‘A game’ and you will feel great!

Please share any tips you have to eating better on a 12 hour shift.

 

Healthy body, Healthy Mind

If there is something I used to find more boring than eating healthily, it’s people talking about it. But my attitudes have changed now that I’m a responsible adult (haha). Being on placement is pretty tough, especially if you haven’t worked in that environment before. I’ve done 13-hour waitressing shifts before but after an 8-hour student nurse shift, I’m shattered! During my first placement, I didn’t pay attention to how much sleep I needed or what I ate. Totally the wrong thing to do! I’m not saying being a student nurse needs you to turn into a health guru with your own cute Instagram account called LoveKaleForLife, but being that little bit healthier can help. So that means avoiding cheap takeaways when you get home from placement, no matter how tempting it is. Unless its treat yourself day!

Getting enough sleep seems like a pretty obvious tip on how to survive placement, but you’d be surprised on how difficult it can be- especially if you live in halls! I’ve had few incidences, and heard a lot from other nurses. And when that karaoke at 3am on the floor below you starts up, your precious sleep can suffer a bit. Earplugs might be a good investment if you can’t handle that. Luckily I lived above a nightclub for 3 months, so the sound of drunk screams is like a weird lullaby.

Food is another MEGA important aspect. Making sure you eat a decent and healthy meal three times a day makes it easier to get through your shifts. I found out the hard way that just a fruit bar for breakfast is just going to give you the rumbliest stomach ever. And stomach rumbles aren’t easy to conceal, trust me. It’s a bit unerving for patients when you’re packing an infected abdominal wound and your nurse looks hungry enough to dig in!!  Whether it’s a packed lunch (couscous for dayyyyys) or something you buy when you’re on placement, get yourself ‘mealed up’!

Finally, remember that your life isn’t just about placement. You need time for other things! I like to walk my dog as both exercise and downtime. I know it’s hard not to jump straight into bed with Netflix and crisps (which I have done on many occasions), but try it out! I’m not suggesting you run a marathon (unless that’s your thing), but exercise can help you release stress and aid your sleep. And who doesn’t like sleep???