Finding your feet in third year: a lesson from A&E

*Disclaimer: this post includes description of a traumatic situation which some may find distressing* 

When I started 3rd year, I was excited! I had a fantastic end to second year, and I truly felt ready to enter my final year of my degree. But with that excitement came the endless worrying about jobs, dissertation, and work for other modules. When placement began, I realised I felt like a complete novice again! Despite only having two months off over summer, I felt like I couldn’t remember how to do anything on placement (clinically speaking). I was even putting on blood pressure cuffs the wrong way. Everyone asked me what year I was in, and saying “I’m in third year, but I don’t know what I’m doing” every time was ruining my confidence.

It wasn’t until my 5th shift when I finally started to feel less on edge. I was working in resus (for the most critically ill patients in a&e), and we had an man with chest pain and fluctuating consciousness. Since he was in a bad way, a few anaesthesiologists from ICU came to set up mechanical ventilation for the patient. It was really fantastic to see everyone working together almost seamlessly, and including me in their decision making. I was given little jobs such as getting supplies or checking the observations but it was all I could really help with at the time. After a very long trip to CT, it was clear our patient was deteriorating. As soon as he was back in resus, our patient went into cardiac arrest. The nurse I was working with asked if I had done CPR before, and if I wanted to get involved. To my own surprise, I agreed. I have been learning CPR for well over 5 years now, so I knew that I could help in some way. Each person did 2 minutes of CPR, whilst keeping an eye on the defib heart monitor. Due to the patient being on a hospital bed, we all had to stand on a stool in order to reach, which I found really bizarre!

I wish I could accurately describe the feeling of trying to save someone’s life, but I can’t. There was so much adrenaline rushing around me, but all I kept thinking about was how I was currently involved in the worst day of someone’s life.

During CPR, the doctors confirmed (through an echo-cardiogram) that there was nothing left we could do. Myself and the nurse went to work on ensuring our patient was at peace, and ready to be seen by his family. They were in shock and declined, which I understand. And our day went on. I had a debrief with the nurse, and a HCA who had also performed CPR for the first time, which was lovely. We spoke about how CPR is so different from how it is often portrayed. I had never thought about the fact that you won’t be able to reach a patient without standing on a stool, or how someone must time each session of CPR.

Despite being a high-pressure and sad situation, it helped me a lot. I did something I had never done, but had extensively prepared for. If you feel like you are back at square one, despite being a third year, I challenge you to think about what you do on placement. I think there is a tendency to see progression as acquiring new skills, but sometimes its about putting our current skills to use in a new situation.

 

 

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Never ‘just’ a student

“I’m sorry, I’m just a student.”

Sound familiar? How many times have you said this while out on placement? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m ashamed to say it’s more often than I can count, especially in the first two years of my training. It possibly stems from a lack of confidence or uncertainty, perhaps a fear that I’d do or say something wrong – something we’re all bound to experience at some point during our training.

But is this lack of confidence a wider issue among qualified nurses, as well as students? Do we sometimes have a tendency, as a profession, to devalue our work and contribution? Do we see ourselves as less important or influential than other health professionals?

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Conference programme

I recently attended the 2017 Nursing and Midwifery Conference held by the newly formed Manchester Foundation Trust at Manchester Royal Infirmary. The keynote speech was given by Dr Eden Charles, a leadership coach and consultant who has been successfully supporting individuals to create cultural change in their organisations, including the NHS, for more than 30 years. He recognised that as nurses and midwives it is in our nature to give, to put others first and to sometimes put our own needs on the back burner. But, he said, with that sometimes comes a tendency to lack confidence in our huge strength and contribution as a profession. He said he often hears nurses refer to themselves as ‘just’ the nurse and is always baffled because of how important the role really is from the perspective of patients.

As student nurses or midwives, we are on the cusp of joining the largest professional body in the health service who are in a unique and privileged role as both care givers and advocates for patients. Although not yet registered, we are still an integral part of the nursing profession and make a difference in many ways to care in the NHS. The more confidently we value our contribution, the better we can speak out for our patients and give a voice to those who otherwise might not be heard.

In his speech, Dr Charles said: “Never say ‘I am just a nurse’. Change that story to ‘I am a professional nurse’. Put yourself into the world boldly and confidently as people who deserve to have a voice.” He challenged us to be ‘nursing rebels’ or ‘rebels for compassion’; to acknowledge our strength and abilities in order to gain greater influence and make changes to practice that really matter. He reminded us that leadership can be found at all levels, not just at the top; we all have a responsibility to bring about the changes we want to see. It’s not always easy or straightforward, but as students we can make positive changes by living the values that brought us to nursing or midwifery in the first place.

So I’m making a promise to myself and I hope you will too; I will never be ‘just the student’ or ‘just a nurse’ ever again.

Handling complaints: what I never learnt as a waitress

I have never been good at receiving complaints. Before I started my nursing degree, I worked as a waitress for 5 years. It was not uncommon to deal with customer complaints on a daily basis, and I would always just say “I’m really sorry about that. I’ll speak to my manager” which was always a fail safe. 98% of the time, the customer didn’t want to speak to me anyway!

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Accurate picture of me listening to customer complaints

But that changed when I started my nursing. Suddenly, whilst trying to make small talk with patients, I was being confronted with complaints about care they had received in the past or at that very moment. I couldn’t get away with my usual spiel because care complaints are more specific, more personal. You have to say something, and sorry doesn’t quite cut it.

I remember, very vividly, the first time I saw a nurse deal with a complaint efficiently. The patient in question was raising her concerns about the referral system for district nurse visits after a stay in hospital. Her care had been delayed due to this. The nurse I was working with listened to her very carefully, occasionally (when appropriate) asked for more detail and did not seem flustered at all. She then thanked the patient, said she would follow this up but urged her to voice her complaint at PALS.

PALS stands for Patient Advice and Liaison Service. It is confidential, and designed to provide support for patients, relatives and carers.

I was amazed at how calmly the whole situation went. Although the patient was upset initially, she was clearly at ease by the end of the visit, and I felt it was due to her being able to voice her opinion. And she was actively encouraged to talk about her concerns as Image result for complaintsit helps the NHS grow as an organisation! And it inspired me!

Since this event, I feel as though I have been inundated with patient complaints. Sometimes I feel as if there is a secret sign on my head that says please voice your thoughts at me!. I have now had endless practice at being calm and friendly, with some situations leading to me having to be a little firm (I will not be shouted at). I find that listening a lot, speaking barely at all, seems to work. Asking them to expand, answering questions when needed, and most importantly not denying their claims. It is extremely important, I think, to acknowledge that not every care interaction is perfect or goes to plan. We must embrace feedback, negative or not! Whether it comes from a staff member, a patient or a relative; complaints should be listened to!

Always speak to your mentor or a staff member about a patient’s complaints. 

Community Matrons; the role we need

I bet you’re thinking, what is a community matron? It sounds very official and a bit scary…but you couldn’t be more wrong!

Within the community healthcare team, there are a wide range of roles. I am currently based with the district nurses (can you tell I love community yet) and I wanted to see how it all fits together. I had never heard of the community matron role, until I met my placement’s local one. She gave me a really fabulous explanation of her job, and I spent two days with her!

Community Matron’s are the Advanced Nurse Practitioners in community. They work alongside the GP’s, District Nurses, Social Workers, Occupational Therapists, Physios etc. to ensure that more vulnerable patients living in the community do not end up in hospital needlessly. Using their amazing medical/psychological/social care assessment skills, they are able to provide support for patients with chronic conditions such as *COPD or heart failure. This is an absolutely fantastic, and much needed role, within the community. They provide extra support to all the healthcare professionals in community.

Whilst working with the community matron, I got a really good idea of what there job is. It’s a very diverse job! One patient we met, the wife was concerned about her husband’s medication. As the main carer, she felt as if not all the medication was necessary and did not understand the need for them. We were able to sit down and have a long discussion about the home environment, how they are coping, and of course review the medication. At the end of our visit, the patient’s wife thanked us profusely for helping her understand. She was much calmer, and felt as if her questions had been answered. One hour made a huge difference to herself and her husband!

Another example was an elderly lady who had *COPD and recently had a chest infection. The community matron ensures that this lady, as well as many other patients with long-term conditions, always have antibiotics in the house, and teaches them to recognize signs of a chest infection. This means the infection is dealt with quickly, it encourages self-care, and reduces the potential stress on GP and A&E services! During our visit, the matron taught me how to listen to chest sounds and undertook basic observations. This is to keep an eye on the chronic conditions her patients suffer from.

This is only a small insight into the work of community matrons, and I could easily sing their praises all day! Personally, this is what integrated care should look like.

I would wholly encourage anyone, no matter what stage in your training, to get a spoke with a community matron.

 

 

 

*Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder

Behind closed doors: a student nurse in general practice

When I first considered nursing as a career, it wasn’t the adrenaline-filled excitement of A&E or intensive care that attracted me; neither was it intricate technical knowledge of theatre nursing or the busy variety of working on a ward. From the outset, community-based or practice nursing had always been my ambition. Maybe I’m slightly odd, but I love chronic conditions and the idea of helping people to manage those has always been appealing. I was also attracted by the autonomy of practice nursing and opportunity to work towards advanced nursing skills like prescribing…and I can’t lie, the lack of nights or weekends didn’t seem too bad either.

Research online suggested that I would need at least two years experience, preferably in A&E, or even a masters degree before moving into general practice. I wasn’t put off, but as a mature student it felt like there were a lot of hurdles to overcome before I could realise my ambition of becoming a practice nurse. I didn’t think for a moment that I’d spend time as a student nurse in general practice – so when I tentatively checked our placement allocations earlier this year, I was over the moon to find out that I’d been placed in a GP surgery nearby.

My mentor and the whole nursing team at the surgery couldn’t have been more welcoming. I discovered that I was their first nursing student and that the surgery is leading a project locally to encourage more GP surgeries to offer placements to student nurses. Like other areas of nursing, there have been difficulties recruiting practice nurses for a number of years, partly down to current practice nurses reaching retirement age, alongside fewer newly-qualified or experienced nurses choosing practice nursing as a career. As such, surgeries like the one I was placed at want to promote general practice as an attractive place to work; they see placements for student nurses during their training as a key part of that strategy.

Over the 12 week placement I got a real insight in the role of the practice nurse. My mentor, who was also a prescriber, led on the management of chronic conditions like hypertension, asthma and COPD, which encompasses advanced assessment skills, prescribing and lifestyle advice. This was on top of bloods, smear tests, contraception advice and of course, lots of injections; a workload shared with another skilled nurse who also took care of all child immunisations and travel vaccinations. They both worked closely with an experienced care support worker who took care of ECGs and spirometry, among many other things. Meanwhile, an Advanced Nurse Practitioner also based at the surgery leads on emergency consultations, seeing everything from chest infections to mental health crises. It was fantastic to see the varied role of the nurse in general practice and just how valued they were by patients.

The first few weeks of my placement were spent observing however as the placement progressed I was encouraged by my mentor to start leading consultations under her supervision. This was nerve wracking at first, but my confidence soon grew. I was eventually given my own clinics to run, taking on straight-forward asthma reviews and blood-pressure checks. It was fantastic having my own room and calling patients in from the waiting room. I loved talking to people about their health, explaining how their medication works and making a plan together that we hoped would help them better manage their condition. The most rewarding part was seeing patients return. One man said his life had been transformed by a steroid inhaler I had encouraged him to start using, saying that he no longer felt breathless or worried about his asthma. The opportunity to get to know your patients and equip them with the tools and knowledge to improve their health and quality of life, has to be one of the best parts of practice nursing.

The pressures on GP surgeries were clear to see, as they are in many other parts of the NHS, however my time in general practice revealed just how crucial practice nurses are in supporting the everyday health needs of individuals. Practice nurses are highly-skilled practitioners in their own right who make a valuable contribution alongside GPs and the rest of the team in a surgery. Hopefully more GP surgeries will start taking on student nurses during their training so that more can gain experience in this often-overlooked area of nursing. Of course it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved my time in general practice and feel that student and newly-qualified nurses have so much to offer to this area.

We would love to hear your views on nursing in general practice – is it a career path you would consider as a newly-qualified nurse? Share your thoughts below!

The joy of community nursing

Community is often painted as marmite- you either love it or you hate it. But is that strictly true? Surely there is something about every placement that can be enjoyable, and not so enjoyable!  I will first admit that my heart lies in community. I knew within the first few days of my placement in first year that I wanted to work in the community. So I thought I’d make a little list about why it’s just so amazing. 

You have to expect the unexpected! You aren’t in the relatively controlled environment of the hospital, you’re in a patient’s home/room. Anything can happen, even trying to stop the pet dog from jumping on the bed during catheterisation!

It really is community based nursing. No matter what area you work in, you’ll know the people, their attitudes and the roads like the back of your hand. It’s really refreshing to be moving around constantly instead of endlessly walking around a ward or clinic.

Improvisation is key! Can’t find the correct wound dressing? Come across a new skin tear? Can’t access the patient’s house? Better make it up! I’ve seen some amazingly ingenious solutions which I’ve then stored in case I ever come across it again. It’s one of the best ways of learning!

Community nurses can be a lifeline. Many patients you will visit in the community are elderly, some of which are very isolated from society due to mobility issues, lack of family or the fact that they live in rural locations. Often, community nurses are the only people they interact with in the day, and they appreciate their presence immensely!

The patient-nurse relationship is very different! As soon as you enter someone’s home, you are entering their territory and you follow their rules. I feel that this allows patients to have a larger role in care decision-making. It is what holistic nursing is all about.

Community nursing is not for everyone, but never underestimate it’s ability to build up your skills!

If you’ve had a community placement, and you’re feeling creative, why not write us a blog post? Simply send us an email at enhancingplacement@gmail.com. We always welcome new content!

Hello from the other side…

We’re delighted to share this guest blog from Lizzie, a fourth year Bachelor of Nursing and Midwifery student from the University of Queensland, Australia. Lizzie shares her incredible experience on exchange at the University of Manchester where she is completing her final nursing placement in A&E at Manchester Royal Infirmary:

“Hello… Can you open your eyes please… What’s your name? Do you know where you are?

My name’s is Lizzie, I’m the student nurse looking after you. How can I help?”

Welcome to the adrenaline packed, electrifying, exhausting and incredibly humbling world of Accident and Emergency. I’m one of two UQ final year Bachelor of Nursing/ Midwifery student’s fortunate enough to have the incredible opportunity to go on Exchange to the University of Manchester, and complete my final Nursing Undergraduate Placement in A+E at the Manchester Royal Infirmary.

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I can’t believe in just under three weeks I’ll be finished my nursing degree! When I was little I always dreamt of being able to help people with my hands, my heart and my brain. I actually have come to feel so at home in the hospital – nursing has fit me like a glove. I love to learn, I’m a people person, but most of all I feel such a sense of satisfaction when I know I’ve made a difference. That’s why I’m excited, and proud to (almost) be a nurse.

I’ve been in the UK for 3 months now. Words can’t describe some of the things I have seen, how much I have grown personally and professionally, and how much I love it here – but I’ll give it my best.

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A+E is a never-ending puzzle. In comes a person with a list of symptoms, and (in the time constraints of the National Health Service’s 4-hour max wait times) you assess, stabilise, gain a history, conduct tests, perform interventions, monitor for the impact of these interventions, and then either refer them to a specialty or (hopefully) send them home. The true skill comes in managing many patients simultaneously – yet still treating, valuing and respecting each as an individual.

While every shift is an adventure – here are some of my highlights:

In A+E when there is a really critical person about to come in we get pre-alerted by a call from the Ambulance service to a “Red Phone”. The Nurse in charge takes the call, and then alerts the department over the loud-speaker – “Red Standby, Adult Major Trauma – ETA 5mins”.

One of these “Red Standbys” was a motorbike vs car head on collision, resulting in fractures to the patient’s femur, hip, wrist, and back… I got to look after and stabilize the patient, and follow them through to the Orthopedic Trauma Operating Theatre. The surgeons and theatre nurses were so kind, they not only talked me through the 3 operations, but they even let me scrub in so I could stand right next to the surgeon as he used metal rods, plates and pins to reconstruct the patient’s broken bones.

I have been actively involved in eight cardiac arrests (one was on my first day – but that’s another story). I’ve helped wheel a patient down the hallway while they were actively receiving CPR, and get them to the “Cath-Lab” where under X-ray guidance surgeons were able to guide a wire up the patient’s femoral artery, and use a stent to reopen the diseased blood vessels of the heart, and save his life.

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I have been blessed with a plethora of opportunities to learn – just over a week ago I traveled to Chorley to complete a simulation training day in “Out of Hospital Emergencies” with the Paramedics and Army Reserve. I’ve worked with an advanced practice nurse running a Community Clinic for Chronic Diseases, and have done home visits with a GP for the day – visiting some of the sickest home-bound patients.

Just yesterday I got to ride in an ambulance for the first time as we transferred a patient to a specialist hospital for neurosurgery. The patient was critical, so we traveled on “blue lights”. The paramedic crew were amazingly skilled, calm and good at balancing as we tore down the highway.

Manchester is a beautiful city to explore, and the rest of the UK is so close that I’ve being doing my best to see as much as can on my days off. So far I’ve day-tripped to the Lakes District, spent a weekend in Bath visiting the Roman baths and Stonehenge, seen some stunning castles in Wales, and travelled to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day!

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There are some exciting opportunities on the horizon – in my final week as a student nurse I’ll be attending a conference in London and on shift with the London Ambulance Service.

I have been so lucky to have worked as part of an incredibly supportive team and mentored by inspiring nurses and doctors. I won’t sugar coat it – I have seen some heartbreaking things (as is the nature of Accident and Emergency), but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve found my calling – caring for people when they are most vulnerable. Be that at the beginning (as a student midwife) or at the end (as a student nurse), it’s my privilege to love, support and provide dignity. Not as a healthcare professional, but as one human being caring for another human being.

I have learned there is never a situation in which a non-judgmental ear, a hand to hold, and kindness won’t help.

I’ve realised how precious every moment is.