Patients loved good student nurses

Patients loved good student nurses cos we had time to chat with them

Patients and nurses loved good student nurses
Everyone loves good student nurses

Good student nurses might not be as skilled or knowledgeable as the professionals, but they’re very much loved by patients. They’re a breath of fresh air. Most of them want to help, whether it’s plumping up your pillows or making you that longed for cup of tea.

Have you ever been in hospital, maybe bursting to go the loo and you couldn’t get the nurse’s attention? Or your chin was on your chest and your neck had locked because your pillows were skew-whiff? Hmm, me too, on more than one occasion. And I get that nurses are really busy, I know, because I was one. But manys a time I could see them huddled round the nurse’s desk, laughing and stuffing their faces with chocolates.

Seriously, some general nurses work really hard, running up and down their wards, trying to fit in everyone’s needs. And it seems impossible some days. But Hallelujah, several times a year, they get a group of student nurses, many of whom want to learn. Woe betide if you just want to hang around looking like a nurse. You had work to do, and nurses couldn’t be bothered with hangers on.

I’d wanted to become a mental health nurse and this general nursing wasn’t what I’d signed up for. However, if you were a good student, willing to learn and share the teams’ mission, they’d support you, which made it easier. You’d help them with most anything they asked, within your capabilities. Even the most dreaded tasks.

Me and patient’s bodily functions

General nursing student

I wasn’t looking forward to this particular placement because, not only did I dislike East London and that hospital, it was also a general male ward. And generally where you get all men, you get burps, farts, snot and phlegm, in no particular order.

I gagged when I was asked to collect mucus — just at the thought of it. But actually holding a sputum cup half-full with sticky green bodily fluid had me dry-retching and reaching for the ladies. I dreaded the day I had to hold male poo samples.

A lovely elderly chap called Derek was the first patient I saw. He had prostate cancer along with other age-related ailments. Derek chuckled and winked at me when he saw me screwing my nose up. I couldn’t help but show my disgust at the foul smells of half-full bedpans and commodes. I realised I was being unprofessional, and it didn’t take long for me to become accustomed to the odour on the ward.

Patients I adored

General nurses were always busy
General nurses were always busy

Derek loved telling me stories about his life during the war and how, once home with his lovely young wife, they’d never spent a day apart. He also told me that his wife was on another ward down the corridor and he missed her terribly.

Before I went off shift one day, I managed to get Doris’ bed wheeled right next to Derek’s for the afternoon, despite moans from the nurses. I got to see why they never spent time apart; holding hands, whispering and giggling like teenagers and dipping custard creams into each other’s tea. I felt so proud that I was able to help in some small way. I’d honestly never had such a humbling and emotional experience.

Ah! Derek’s bed had been moved the next morning. I asked a male nurse where he was. With a nod and eyes rolling upward, he said: “He’s gone upstairs.” Oh, I thought and before I asked anything more, the nurse said “He’s dead.” Just like that!

I dashed the ladies to dry my eyes before looking in on Doris and her family, to pass on my condolences. I wasn’t sure I was at the right curtains when I heard laughter. So, I stood for a while, then Doris noticed my tiny shiny shoes and called me in. The family thank me for the humanity shown the previous day, and told me how much it had meant to both parents. They’d had their final chuckles and they were both at peace in their own way now.

Students have the time to listen

Most patients love good students on the ward because sometimes they’re the only ones who have time to stop and chat. They’d ask patients about their needs and wants, and try to help. Sometimes patients just wanted someone to listen to them, and students fitted the bill. While nurses ran ragged. They’d administer medication and attend ward rounds, while writing notes, and updating no end of needless care plans.

Phones rang out, begging to be picked up. It might have been someone wanting to speak to a poorly patient, or results from other departments?

Patients had many needs

Nursing students supported their colleagues while learning

See, most patients had more underlying health problems than just the issue came in with. This tends to happen unfortunately, particularly in large cities like London. It then becomes difficult for care teams to discharge patients in a timely manner because:

  • patients who didn’t speak or understand English needed interpreters
  • some patients needed support with housing and benefit issues
  • other patients couldn’t go home because their accommodation had to be repaired of adapted prior to discharge
  • often we had homeless patients who required a lot of input
  • others — just didn’t want to go home either because they were lonely or didn’t have any family around them
  • we also had patients with mental health problems and were awaiting a psych assessment
  • at least 25% of general hospital beds are occupied by people living with dementia. On average people with dementia stay more than twice as long in hospital then other patients aged over 65, said the National Audit Office, 2016.

Bed-blockers (hospital speak) are a huge problem for the NHS, and I can’t see it being ‘solved’ any time soon. Patients still need care and support from our busy nurses, while multidisciplinary teams scratch their heads. They too have large caseloads, and no doubt it’s hard to put systems in place so that patients can go ‘home’.

In the meantime, nurses made hundreds of phone calls to the various support agencies and social services, while still caring for patients. This take them away from the very job they trained for; looking after patients. No wonder both patients and staff loved and appreciated good student nurses on their wards.

Over to you

What’s your experience, if any, of student nurses? Do you think nurses have a tough time on the wards? I’d be interested to hear what you think, and I’m looking forward to your comments or questions.


Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

13 thoughts on “Patients loved good student nurses”

      1. I remember when I was on the ward, everybody ran around at 100mph so that’s why I say it. Some therapists noticed, for sure, but I hardly saw the same nurse twice and I don’t think I ever saw a doctor in three years volunteering.

      2. Yes, it’s a shame though isn’t it Pete. That nurses are overstretched to the point they don’t even see volunteers or appreciate their value. And that sounds awful, not seeing the same nurses and NEVER seeing the Doctors!

      3. I visited during the afternoon, and everything in hospitals happens in the morning. So I don’t particularly see any significance in not seeing doctors. I suspect Joe Public would probably be surprised to learn that they don’t spend 100% of their time with patients, but I’d guess the figure is much lower. Plus I suppose they had outpatient clinics. I’m thinking of the consultants in particular, there were generally a couple of junior doctors knocking around.

      4. Yes, I suppose you’re right there Pete – most of the Doctor’s ward rounds were carried out each morning on the general ward. Which is, of course, insignificant anyway 😉 I forget, general wards tend to be very different from mental health wards, where we always had at least a junior doctor around.

      5. That’s one thing I don’t understand, the differences between mental and general wards. I’m never too sure when I comment, how relevant that comment is. But I figure there are probably more similarities than differences.
        From what I saw of jr doctors, their role was very unclear to me. I mean, they must have *had* a role, but I didn’t know what it was. There were the nurses who cared (if I was lucky 🙂) and a couple of consultants who decided. but there people fell somewhere in between.

      6. Mental health wards differ somewhat, in that Doctors don’t conduct ward rounds like general wards do. The multidisciplinary team (mdt)wouldn’t be seeing patients by or in their beds and wouldn’t be going into patients’ rooms.

        Ward rounds are conducted only once a week for each Consultant, so you might have 2-4 Consultants on a ward so you’d have 2-4 different ward round days.

        These were held in a room big enough to fit the whole mdt. This could be 10+ people in there, not counting family.

        On ward round days, you have so many people wandering around the day/seating area, i.e. members of the mdt waiting to go into ward round and chatting with their patient, family and carers

        Can you imagine upwards of 20 patients all with their own care team in tow, together with family, carers or professionals from outside agencies.

        Another difference is that in mental health wards, patients have to queue up quite a lot i.e. for 3-4 meals a day, to have their medication, waiting in line to go out for a ciggie with a staff member. Or they have to queue at the Cash Office, where any money they have is held – and they want to buy toiletries or goodies.

        Another pet hate was that you’d rarely see Get Well Soon cards on mental health wards and I never once saw a flower, let alone a bouquet.

        Junior doctors are in training and do 6 months rotations in various settings like GP surgery, obs & gynae, A&E, mental health and so on. After that they decide which specialism they want to go into. So, basically, they’re not very knowledgeable in every area and have to rely on nurses’ skills and knowledge. I loved reminding silver-spoon, snotty-nose, arrogant young doctors that “they were guests on our wards and treat nurses with the respect they desire.”

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