My first year of university has been anything but what I expected given the fact that, due to the ongoing pandemic, I spent the majority of my first year in lockdown. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed every moment of my time at uni so far, and this has been mainly down to the wonderful placements that I have had the opportunity to go on.

Not only are placements beneficial to your learning and the chance of you being offered a job at the end of your course; they are also extremely fun, and have allowed me to make friends and care for a wide array of different people, which is not only rewarding but also my goal for once I graduate university. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous when I started my first placement in January. I still get nervous now when I start a new placement, and that’s perfectly normal. It’s natural to worry about things that you’ve never done before, but when it comes to placements, there is nothing to worry about. All of the nurses I have met this year have been lovely to me. They understand that you’re a student and how stressful and nerve-wracking that can be.

When we first went into lockdown, and the uni moved to online teaching, I was worried that I wouldn’t get to go on my placements. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go on 5 different placements this year, two long placements and three shorter.

My first long placement was on an adult male inpatient mental health ward, which was something very new to me as before starting university, I had only ever worked with elderly people or children. Despite this fact, everyone was very welcoming, and I was able to pick things up very quickly and felt like I was a part of the team by the end of my 8 weeks. I was given various opportunities during my time on the ward to complete the different competencies required of a registered nurse, such as administering medication, completing physical observations, and attending discharge planning meetings. I was shown how to document things in ‘Paris’ – the system used by all mental health professionals in the Tees Esk and Wear Valley Trust. This was useful information that I can carry forward and use throughout the rest of my training and beyond.

My second long placement was with the community mental health team for older people; which involved visiting people in care homes to discuss and find solutions to their mental health problems, as well as helping care home staff manage behaviours that challenge people suffering from dementia. This placement was very different to the first one I completed, which I was grateful for as it allowed me to gain a broader range of experience of working with different age ranges in both an inpatient setting and in the community. Once again, everyone I worked with while on this placement was very welcoming and I was given lots of opportunities to work with different members of the team, such as support workers and occupational therapists, as well as the nurses to develop a better understanding of the team’s role in preventing poor mental health.

Following these two long placements, I was then allowed to complete some short 1 – 2 week preferred option placements before the end of my first year. My first of these short placements was with the memory clinic, a community team that works to diagnose elderly people with types of dementia and other cognitive impairments. This was a very interesting placement, as previously I had only ever worked with people who already had a diagnosis of dementia, so I was curious to see the process that went into getting a diagnosis. The team was more than happy to teach me anything I wanted to know about this process, and as well as working with the nurses, I also had the opportunity to work with the occupational therapists within the team and one of the doctors who diagnoses people with these diseases after all the necessary tests have been completed.

My second short placement was on the haematology ward at James Cook University Hospital, which was an amazing experience despite only being a weeklong. This was an adult nursing placement, so although it was very different to all the placements I had done thus far, it provided me with some of the necessary experience in one of the three other nursing fields that are required to qualify at the end of my course.

My final short placement was with the crisis team, a mental health service for people in need of immediate help. This was very different to the other mental health placements I had been on so far and I was able to develop a better understanding of how to respond to people in crisis, which is a very important skill to have as a mental health nurse.

If I was to offer any advice for new students studying courses that involve placements, I would say remember that there are no stupid questions. People you encounter on placement would rather you asked any questions you have, as it shows your willingness to learn and become better at your chosen subject. Additionally, it is important to say yes to any opportunities that come your way as it will allow you to gain the most experience and practice all the things you learn during your theory lessons at uni.

But most importantly have fun. Placements are an opportunity to meet lots of new people and even make friends with other students. So, make the most of your time and enjoy every minute while out on placement.

By Lauren Brice.