Thursday, 28 June 2012


Having finished my last placement, I have turned my eyes towards the future. Summer is coming up and I shall be working full-time on ‘Clearing’ for the University of Greenwich. It’s still with the same Enquiry Unit team I’ve been working with and I’ve really enjoyed the work so far. I could have – I suppose – got some bank shifts at the local hospital as a healthcare assistant but this is so much more fun so I’ll be staying throughout summer. I’ll probably be boring you blogging about it when I start – so more about that later.
            For this blog though, I wanted to concentrate on something else: INTERVIEWS. Interviews are needed for any job you may want and also for many university courses, especially for professional courses such as nursing and healthcare courses, social work and teaching. After I knew I had passed my final OSCEs, I decided to apply for my first job as a staff nurse. Many of my tutors were saying it was getting incredibly hard to find nursing jobs and that we would be competing with qualified nurses so when, after a few weeks of applying for a number of jobs (via the NHS Jobs website), I got invited for an interview at a Foundation Hospital in Surrey, I went along, happily thinking it would serve as a rehearsal for future interviews in London.
            It all started with a presentation on the Foundation Trust and the two hospitals that make up the trust. All nursing (and other professional courses) interviews begin with a numeracy and literacy test (for nursing jobs, you can also get a drugs calculation test and you may be asked to do a care plan as well). For this interview, it was a combination of numeracy (GCSE level) and a drugs calculation test. The literacy test was a complex care plan for a patient presenting to A&E with various long-term conditions and health issues. If you pass both sections, you then get invited for a job interview.
By this time, I was more than a little interested in working for the trust. Whereas I thought it would be just a test drive, I started really liking the Foundation Trust and the employees. I started thinking that our principles were more closely related than at the trust I was training with. I went to the interview and I was offered a job at my preferred ward on the spot. I was ecstatic! My mind was made up – I would finish my training and move out of London to Surrey for my first job as a staff nurse.
Fellow student nurses asked what the interview process was like and potential students often ask what they might be asked if they came in for a selection day interview. Interviews are all about assessing your potential as a student and/or as a nurse. You may need to know basic answers but it really is about whether or not you’re going to be a good fit for something. My advice is to always be natural – yes, you’re going to be nervous but don’t have a major personality change. For example, I am very talkative. In an interview, I wouldn’t talk so much that they couldn’t get a word in edgeways however I make sure that it is clear that I am not a quiet, retiring, shy person. Say, for argument’s sake, I did and managed to convince them that I was a quiet, shy person. And it just so happens that the whole team was like that – quiet, retiring, reflective and calm people. Pretty soon, I’d be driving everyone insane and I wouldn't fit in.  
Honesty is always the best policy. Interviewers aren’t trying to find out all your flaws and only accepting perfect candidates. There is no such thing as a perfect candidate. If someone has more experience than you, they might have worse academic results. If they have both better experience and academic results, they may not have your scintillating personality or interpersonal skills. Interviews, at the end of the day, shouldn’t be something that makes you so nervous you forget your name. That’s what OSCEs are for. Interviews are more like a first date, if you will. It’s awkward, you’re a bit nervous but you should be open about who you are and to some extent what you want.
Just as there are no perfect candidates, there are also no perfect jobs. There are simply jobs that suit you better, that are a better match for you. By all means, have some answers for standard interview questions but all interviews are really about potential. And that’s where you should shine.
I was recently speaking to a couple of admissions officers who have to interview potential students. They mentioned that flowery statements such as, ‘I’ve always wanted to do nursing/midwifery/paramedics science’ unhelpful, especially if you say you wanted to be a nurse/midwife since you were 7 years old and then come to the training at 30, or 25. If it really were all you wanted to do, you’d have done it at 17. I understand life happens and you can’t always follow a straight path but perhaps don’t use those words.
True enthusiasm always shows. And that – not desperation for the job – is what you should be able to show during your interview. I got the job and others (qualified nurses) didn’t. They had more experience and the questions were straightforward. I didn’t get all of the questions right, I don’t think; or rather, my inexperience must have shown. But I acknowledged my shortcomings and said that was the best answer I could give at the time. It must have been enough because I walked out of there with a job offer.

Monday, 25 June 2012

My last placement as a student nurse

I have just finished my last placement as a student nurse. It was very bizarre to contemplate that it was my last shift under the protective shield of the student nurse uniform – after three years!!! For if there are many hardships that we as student nurses can complain of, there is also always the protection of not quite being accountable for what you do. You practice under a nurse’s PIN number and as such all you do falls ultimately on the nurse you work with. I am talking only of ultimate accountability, not responsibility. If you err, you will have consequences but ultimately it is the nurse who is called to account for your actions.
Why, you may ask? Well, the ‘Code of Conduct’ as written by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) state that nurses are responsible for the work that they delegate to others and that they should be aware of the task and the capabilities of whom they are delegating the task to. If a nurse asks you to do something (and this is especially true if you are unsupervised) then they should have considered that you know what you are doing. And I have never been involved in a case where I was asked to do something I didn’t know what I was doing.
But back to my last shift of my last placement of my last year as a student nurse. I looked at the nursing team I had been working with for the last 16 weeks and realised that I would miss them all terribly. I had grown quite fond of them. And I considered how much I had learnt in my time with them. I opted to get away from medical nursing and do surgical nursing for my last placement. Mostly because I had done so much medical and not enough surgical nursing and wanted more exposure before I qualified. They had taught me much about analgesia, wounds, dressings, drains, enhanced recovery and how to do much with very little resources. In particular, I was deeply impressed with the healthcare assistants in that ward, who were very capable and hardworking. The nurses were most generous with their time and knowledge and were very firm about shaping me for my new role as a staff nurse. I am very grateful.
There is a slight adjustment, if you will, that all student nurses must make. It is a very slight shift of going from a passive worker to an active one; one who predicts what must be done. As a student nurse, you are working under a nurse who will decide what needs to be done and then delegate tasks accordingly. You work under this protection for just over two years and a half; and there is a safety in not having to make decisions but working towards a common goal with someone else. Then one fine day, you need to start making decisions for yourself and your patients. Mrs Smith’s blood pressure is low after her morning dose of 5 mg amlodipine (antihypertensive). It was high but after amlodipine it is quite low and she is complaining of feeling faint and she isn’t drinking much. You do another set of observations and realise it is even lower than before. Well, you can advise her to drink more fluids and you know that it might be wise to bleep the doctors and let them know.
This is the adjustment – whereas before you might just have gone to the nurse, informed her and then trotted off eagerly for your coffee break, happy and content that you had done all you could have. Now you must bleep the doctor, now you must have the charts at hand and ensure her fluid intake is adequate, now you must ensure her safety is maintained and that she doesn’t get up and have a nasty fall due to dizziness.
It’s a slight shift but one that needs to happen. And when one does, one has even more admiration for nurses. It is very odd how much my attitude towards nursing training has changed in the three years of my training. I used to think I did nothing except go fetch the commodes and get the water jugs filled for patients and wonder how I would ever learn enough to be a nurse. But it all ‘clicks’ in your third year and you find that actually, you are going to be ok.
So there I was, about to walk off the last ward I would ever trod as a student nurse and I have to say I was both jubilant and frightened. But I was so very happy that I did undertake the training and all of a sudden all the possibilities for my future have increased. It has not been easy – the hours, the placements, the financial strain, the stress, the academic work. It hasn’t been easy but it was really worth it and I am a better person because of it. My future is much brighter now.