This month, I had the wonderful opportunity to undertake two weeks clinical placement in an emergency department of one of the busiest children’s hospitals in NSW. It was an amazing experience and I was surprised at how much I learnt in just a fortnight. The nursing and medical teams were fantastic, willing to take the time to explain procedures and getting me involved in patient care right from day one.
Within the University of Newcastle nursing program, the third year placements are mentored rather than facilitated. This means we do not have someone from the University with whom we meet with each day or even each week. Instead, we are partnered with a mentor RN and work with them for the entire placement. My RN, let’s call her Sue, was lovely – very knowledgeable and experienced.
It was a fantastic and highly rewarding placement. There were lots of smiles and laughter and the relief you see within a parent when they find out their child is going to be ok is amazing to witness. I am truly grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with such a great team of nurses and be able to care for these children. However, emotionally, it was also the hardest placement I have had in the three years of my nursing degree.
Within six shifts, I helped care for a teenage girl who died from a paracetamol over-dose as well as two other patients admitted with suicidal ideation, one of whom was only 11 years old. I nursed 3 patients newly diagnosed with cancer, with 2 of these patients being less than 12 months old. Not to mention the numerous children who needed to be held while having painful procedures performed.
The grief I saw in the families of these patients and the distress I could see in the little children was something no amount of teaching within a classroom could have prepared me for. However, it soon became clear caring for patients such as these was the norm for the nurses within this department. For Sue, these were just ordinary days. Yet, as a student, these were all new and highly emotional experiences.
While the University provided formal debriefing sessions for us once the placement was completed, there were shifts where I returned to my student accommodation, away from my family and friends, and honestly doubted whether I had the courage to return and face another day as sad as the one I had just finished. Thankfully, phone calls to some of my nursing student friends kept me going back each day.
So I ask those nurses who supervise and mentor students; remember they are new to this profession. These are new experiences for them, which can often be emotional and even traumatic. Take the time to debrief with them, to talk to them about how they are feeling, not just what they are doing. Let them know they are not alone, that their feelings are normal.
Never forget, we need your support and encouragement. You would be surprised at how much difference a reassuring word or comforting chat will make to your students.