TL:DR, Becoming a nurse is the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it was worth it.
A few weeks back I became a nurse.
Some nurses might read this unabashed account of my experience and think I am a whiny baby. Maybe their training was sunshine and rainbows which they look back on fondly. Much like a mother several years post birth. But we all know. Giving birth is horrendous.
If you’re reading this before you become a nurse maybe your training will really be sunshine and rainbows. Anything is possible.
A year prior to completing the degree I began an access to nursing diploma, it was part time and helped to prepare me for the academic demands of the degree. Some of it was absolute rubbish but overall it was useful, if only because it pretty much guaranteed I’d get a place on a course. Despite our nursing shortage, it is still competitive to gain a nursing degree place. I worked part time during this year and couldn’t really have managed without savings. If you are an aspiring mature student nurse I recommend an access course and becoming an HCA to supplement your income.
Then began the hardest three years of my life. I’m not even exaggerating. I’ve run a marathon, gotten divorced and moved internationally more than once. This was harder than all these individual hurdles combined.
If you fancy a blow by blow account of a day in the life of a ward nurse you can read this other thing I wrote a few years ago here:
But let’s carry on.
First year doesn’t matter too much in terms of the grade you will come out with at the end of the degree but that didn’t stop me from putting huge amounts of pressure on myself to do well. And the placements. Placements in first year are the hardest. Every member of staff you meet will have a different expectation in regard to how competent you should be. Some nurses gave me patients to look after unsupervised, other supervised everything I did, quizzing me throughout. First year is the year you are most likely to be shouted at by your mentor in front of the entire ward. I’d like to say first year is the year you will cry most in storage cupboards but realistically that will happen throughout the three years and possibly for the rest of your life as a nurse.
Everyone will warn you that during the degree you may injure yourself performing some kind of manual handling. I did. I slipped a disc during my second placement and could barely walk for two weeks. It healed but was terrifying. I got norovirus more than once, stress related eczema and began having ectopic heartbeats during the degree. I also gained nearly 4 stone. I had to buy more uniforms two sizes bigger and worried toward the end that they may not fit in my final weeks.
Second year was actually kind of ok until my boyfriend’s Mum suddenly got oesophageal cancer and died 6 weeks later. I do not in any way begrudge any of the support I needed to give to everyone in my family during that time but I did it as a nurse, less so a girlfriend. Even when something is affecting you very closely, you are the nurse in the family now, as soon as you begin your training, even if you don’t really know what you’re doing. People will rely on you to interpret medical stuff and support them as a nurse. It is very hard.
Later during second year I went to The Philippines for a nursing placement. This was also incredibly hard but also fairly thrilling. I sweated a lot. You can watch my vlogs of that trip here:
This trip was sort of a more concentrated version of what it was like to be a mature student amongst 20 year olds. I really struggled with this. I’ve always been a bit of an outsider but I really felt it during the degree whilst trying to befriend people ten years my junior. I lost touch with old friends too because I was too busy to spend time with them throughout the degree. It is also worth mentioning that the NHS isn’t always the liberal utopia I thought it was going to be. Nurses are still people and some of them are racist, sexist, homophobic or just plain rude. Let alone the ones that are burnt out. I found less kindred spirits than I expected to.
Now. Third year. Oh boy.
In Third year you are a nurse, you’re just not getting paid. Also, you must write a 9000 word literature review which counts for almost a quarter of your degree. I dedicated about 8 months of my life to writing a very passionate literature review entitled ‘How does legislation affect health promotion for female sex workers?’, (A: punitive legislation dramatically impacts both access to and implementation of health promotion strategies. Sex work needs to be decriminalised asap.)
I didn’t go out, I worked on all my days off, I redrafted and redrafted and I got a C. When I got the grade back I tried to read the feedback but I couldn’t stop crying so I gave the stupid thing to my Mum who has kept it for a long off point in the future where I may be able to cope with reading it.
So why did I stick it out?
Easy – nursing is wonderful. It is an utter privilege what people will trust you with. You can travel anywhere and be a nurse. There are as many career pathways as there are parts of of the body. Nursing is freedom from worry about job security. No matter what happens to the NHS, we will always need nurses.
Finally, a tip for anyone about to venture into this career. Pull the pin out on your fob watch between placements, it saves the battery.