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