You come on to your shift as a nurse and you find out a nursing student is assigned to one or some of your patients. Now what…?

So a few weeks ago I wrote a little piece on how nursing students could better manage a challenging nurse they had been assigned for the day. (You can read it here!) Wow – did I hit a chord with folks! I literally had over a thousand views over the course of three days. (For perspective – that was more views for my humble blog since its inceptions! Thanks for all the love!) It went crazy pseudo-viral on Pinterest and beyond. I am beyond humbled that my message resonated with so many. It really got me thinking of how sad that so many students are struggling with this same problem – nurses not being so friendly to them during clinicals. My first instinct was frustration as I LOVE my students and enjoy being with them – I can’t understand why no one else does?? But, then I got to thinking a bit more about the situation, I couldn’t help but think about all the nurses who seem kind of lost with the students they are assigned for the day. Well, this ones’ for you!! Here are my humble tips for nurses to help nursing students!

Tips for nurses

Remember what it was like as a student…. stressful!

Personally, I graduated in 1998 – not “too” long ago. But, I sure do remember it like yesterday! It certainly was one of the most stressful times in my life. Finding the right student loans for a start can be a real pain if you don’t know where to look. So much was riding on each day, each test – there was so much to learn. The stress was incredible. In fact, as I talk to my peers and the nurses I encounter, no one really has fond memories of the whole experience. (That can be a blog for another day – why does it have to be so miserable?) Anyways… the thing to remember, the student is under high stress and as we all learned in our psych/mental health rotation, learning and information intake is impaired during times of high anxiety and stress. We all were there once, none of us really “enjoyed” it, so lets change that a bit and try to be compassionate to their current situation.

Assess what model of learning the student is working under

There are two predominant models for clinical nursing education – the preceptor model and the “duckling” model. Essentially, the preceptor model is when the student is assigned to a nurse for the day – as their preceptor. The clinical instructor is usually in the hospital, but has students on multiple floors and units. The duckling model is a more traditional model – this is when the instructor is on the floor with all of their students and intimately involved with the daily care the students are providing. Often, they completely assume care for your patient. Both models have pros and cons. With the preceptor model, a lot of teaching/mentoring is placed on the staff nurse, however, the student is more likely to have many more opportunities and understand the roll of the nurse. In contrast, with the duckling model, the nurse may have little interaction with the student for their patient’s care as the instructor will be the teacher/mentor. But, in this model, the student typically has limited experiences and opportunities as they always have to wait for their instructor. Most nurses have a pretty good idea which schools they deal with use which model, but it certainly never hurts to clarify. Also know that some of these decisions are made by the nursing school and /or the facility and out of the control of the instructor.

Be kind, patient and encouraging

Sounds simple enough, but you would be surprised. Sometimes the smartest nurse on the floor is not the kindest. When I am coordinating assignments with the charge nurse for my students, my first request is the kind nurses. Again, the student is stressed enough and when someone is mean, no learning occurs and in fact, there is more opportunity for errors and patient harm. Kindness goes a long way, as well as patience and an encouraging word. They already feel like they don’t know anything and can’t accomplish most things, so really encourage them when they are successful. But, of course, don’t be afraid to correct wrong actions – a form of love is correction.

You can’t teach them EVERYTHING

Often as a nurse helping a student, you want to show them everything you wish you had known! However, know what level the student is currently at in their education. The student should have a clear idea what they can and can not accomplish in their shift. For example, if they are in fundamentals, basic nursing care and ADLS are the focus. However, as they progress through their med/surg rotations, they should be able to provide all care, pass medications and document on one patient and then progressing. So, know where they are and don’t feel obligated to show them everything!

Respect the students limits and scope of practice

Each state has limitations on the scope of practice for students. This may also be compounded by restrictions placed by the facility the students are practicing. For example, in the state I practice, the students are not allowed to push any IV medication except saline flushes or hang blood. While some of the facilities do not give students access to document in the computer. So, just know the student is not allowed to do some things inpatient care. Plus, protect yourself – if the student can’t do, just move on, it’s not worth the risk to you or the patient.

Your chance to make an impact…but do it willingly

So, here is your big chance to make in impact on the future of nursing. Yes, you! Have you ever wished someone had told you something in school – well, here’s your chance! Instead of complaining what the new nurses don’t know, impact what they know. Show them the right way – your way! But, please don’t teach them inappropriate habits or negative behaviors. You are a role model and they will mimic you – so shine and make a positive impact! But, please take the student under your wing with a willing heart. There is nothing worse than spending the day with a nurse who acts grudgingly to a student. It just makes everyone miserable. Maybe you are not feeling well, maybe you need a break from having a student, whatever it may be, if you don’t think it will be a positive day for you and the student, probably best to have the assignment changed.

Your role is important!!

As you know, most of what we need to teach the student occurs in the “real world” and your role as the nurse is so important. You are demonstrating to the student what the role of the nurse really encompasses. THANK YOU for all that you pour into the students and the future of health care! Thank you for taking the time to care and nurture those students! Remember, they will be taking care of us one day – let’s train them right!! Becoming a nurse can be an extremely stressful career path, as you’ll know. So, that’s why it’s so important to help these students out when they start this job. The stress can become overwhelming, so it’s important that we keep an eye out for them and their mental health. If you sense a student becoming stressed or overwhelmed, you could always suggest that they go and talk to the healthcare counsellor if there’s one available. That could help them. If your hospital doesn’t have a counsellor, it might be worth suggesting that they consider hiring a counsellor to help new staff and even patients. It can be difficult to become a counsellor, so it’s important that candidates read something like Upskilled’s How to become a counsellor guide. This should ensure that the counsellor has great interpersonal skills and is compassionate enough to relate to these students and help them to overcome these struggles. This should keep the nurses wanting to work there, benefitting the healthcare industry!

Is there something you would add to the list? How do you like to approach your day with the students? Let me hear about it! And share your tips for everyone!

Remember, take care, be safe and wash your hands!

Comments (1)

  1. Reply

    Your seven tips provide an excellent resource to both nursing educators and nursing preceptors. As you mention, the memories nurses have in this stage of their academic and professional career normally are not fond memories. The impact a nursing mentor can make on a nursing student, or new graduate nurse, is profound. Every nurse remembers the impact, whether positive or negative, nursing mentors have had on them. The mentorship we give to future nurses is a reflection of the gratitude we have for our profession. Your tips helps guide nursing mentors towards making a positive impact not only on future nurses, but future patients and our community’s public health.

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