There. Three years of work whittled down into three lever-arch files ready to collect dust on a shelf for an indeterminate amount of years..
The end of an era. I’ve absolutely loved being a student nurse. I’ve loved the experiences I’ve had, the friends I’ve made, the people I’ve met and the sense of pride and achievement at so many steps along the way. However, it’s been a hectic, stressful and chaotic three years. I have written over 20,000 words in 9 assignments on a wide variety of subjects, sat 8 exams, spent nearly 60 weeks on placement in 7 different areas, attended countless rep meetings and open days. I’ve helped to organise a conference (or two) and a week-long death café. I’ve been to Leeds, London, Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh on various occasions for various extra-curricular activities. In my spare time I've also had a car crash, endured the most horrible bereavement, and of course - had the pleasure and responsibility of looking after my lovely family (including a post-operative husband at one point!).
It’s been hard, hard work. I definitely took on more than I had to, but I don’t regret a second of it. I’ve been determined to do well from the start and keeping that momentum going for three whole years has been, at times, exhausting. There have been so many tears and tantrums (usually in the week before an assignment deadline). Times that I’ve said “I can’t do it”…but having that sense of determination meant that “I can’t” was always closely followed by “…but I WILL!”.
And I did!
I’ve just completed my final placement. Twelve long forty-hour weeks. I was on placement when I got my final assignment grade in July. The feelings of happiness, pride and relief at not having to write another assignment were overwhelming that day. That was the moment I thought “I’ve done it!” I couldn’t stop grinning like an idiot all day, but then burst into tears watching a mildly sad film later that night - complete emotional overload. So, I had thought that I’d probably feel the same on leaving work after that final shift – but strangely, it felt like any other day. Part of me wonders if that’s because it hasn’t all sunk in yet, but I think it’s partly because I’m not as sad to finish as I thought I would be.
This last placement has shown me that I’m ready to move on. This is the first time since starting my degree that I’ve felt held back. At the start of placement I was told “don’t think of yourself as a student now, think of yourself as a staff nurse”. I found this very difficult to do when still treated as a student. Managing your own patients is hard when most of them are nil by mouth and their medications are all IV and explaining that you need to get a “proper nurse” to flush their cannula to stop the pump bleeping or to give them some pain relief. You’re restricted by the routines, and your mentors’ “way of doing things” because although they want you to be independent – you’re still reliant on them to agree to any decisions you make and countersign everything you write. And often, to other professionals, the student uniform is like a Harry Potter style invisibility cloak. Regardless of the fact that you’ve looked after that patient for the last three days and know everything about their care, you’ll still have doctors, physio’s, dieticians etc., asking to speak to the staff nurse – or worse, speaking to the staff nurse without any interaction with you at all so that you miss important information about their care. One patient actually remarked, “It’s a shame you have to wear that uniform and be called a student, considering all the work you do.” And though I’ve always been proud to wear my student nurse uniform, I felt inclined to agree.
In a few weeks it will all be confirmed in black and white, and I’ll have my official qualification, and I have a job to go to that I’m really looking forward to. I’m slightly terrified too, obviously. The sudden responsibility; that first solo drug round; that first, terrible time the crash alarm is raised and I’m expected to know what to do, and all those other scary scenarios to be in. But then there’s the other things, the good things. Things like… getting PAID! (OK, so that’s not very dedicated of me, but it’s a practicality that means a hell of lot after three years of financial nightmares.) There’s being able to finally be your own person and doing things the way you want to do them. I’m looking forward to finding out what sort of nurse I can be when I’m left to my own devices. I’m looking forward to meeting new people, making new friends, learning new things and all the new experiences of new job.
The other day, a nurse I was working with asked me what my future plans were and what area of nursing did I want to work in. I really struggled to answer. Up until now, this has been the goal - finish degree, get a job - and that’s all in hand. So what is next? Well, firstly I want to spend some time with my family. Yesterday, I watched my daughter playing out on our neighbours’ bike…without stabilisers! When did that happen?! How did I miss that? I feel like I’ve missed so many things - sports days, parents’ evenings, family gatherings, seeing friends. I’ve got a lot of making up to do. I would like to do a masters’ degree at some point, but other than that I’ll just see where life takes me. For now, I just want to spend time being the best mum, wife, friend and nurse that I can be - and I'm looking forward to having the time to do that without worrying about assignment deadlines or directed study or pre-reading for lectures.
So all in all, finishing my nursing degree is not the sad ending I thought it would be, but instead it's a proud achievement and the start of an exciting, happy new beginning :)