Kate Horne – Student Nurse, UPDATE

About a year ago, I told you I’d jumped into a new career and was studying to become a nurse. I’m 2/3 through my first year – here’s a brief “check-in” to give you a glimpse of my new world…

Student nurse on the ward

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Jane1 is an elderly female patient whose stroke has left her unable to talk. As she can’t swallow, Jane had a PEG2 tube inserted into her stomach. As a student nurse on placement on the neuro-rehab ward, I have learned how to give her medicines and food through the PEG tube. I’ve also begun to learn how to communicate with her, and to help her find ways to respond – without speech. On one special day Jane’s family have permission to bring her dog into her side room – the dog is a beautiful shaggy mongrel, obviously much loved. Due to her stroke, Jane has difficulty moving the left side of her body – in particular her arm which usually remains bent at the elbow and close to her chest. As the dog walks around to her left side, she instinctively leans over and stretches her arm out to stroke him, representing a significant first and a huge physical effort for her. I leave the side room as the family are congratulating her - and take a moment to feel moved, and lucky to have this opportunity to witness this tiny but momentous step for Jane.
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On placement as a student nurse, my first few shifts (12.5 hours each overnight) brought home to me that I was training for a job that was way more demanding than I’d ever appreciated. At one extreme, a qualified nurse needs pharmaceutical knowledge - my mentor needed to know about the medicines we gave each patient on the ward, and the risks associated, given each person’s history and condition. At the other extreme – we spent a lot of time helping people use commodes, and then cleaning the commodes – and the people!. Between the medicine and the personal care, we need to know how to treat people as individuals, with dignity and care and kindness, in an environment which can be emotionally intense. I have realised that nursing is a huge job – combining several sophisticated skill sets, working in a system which we know is under siege.

On being a student

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At school I was “rubbish at science” and now I’m learning anatomy and physiology. I’ve been watching amazing U-tube videos on cell transport mechanisms, action potentials and the krebs cycle – I wonder whether it’s really too late for my brain to be learning this stuff, but feel thrilled at finding it does sink in eventually.

On the downside – some aspects of academic study make me mad! Reading books and writing essays, using a ridiculously fussy referencing system just doesn’t seem to be the best way to teach students psychology, and the people skills and emotional intelligence competencies required for nursing today. It reminds me of why I fell in love with adult learning – a respectful approach to learning which builds on the experience that people bring with them, as opposed to being treated like “empty vessels”3 who need to be filled with the lecturer’s expertise…

On the up side, I can wear jeans and comfy shoes, use the fabulous and cheap university gym and to I get to hang out with young people all the time.

And keeping in touch with my old world

I’ve just finished a really enjoyable contract coaching 18 global pharma company leaders from China, Russia, Brazil, US and Europe – all on the phone. I’m still facilitating an action learning group of amazing Charity CEOs, and have been lucky enough to facilitate the occasional team away day, and help people explore personality and personal effectiveness using Myers Briggs and other tools.

It’s been a treat to keep a foot in both worlds and continue with my professional work, so please get in touch if you have any coaching or facilitation work I can help you with in the next year.

Kate

1. All names and details have been anonymised in line with the Nursing and Midwifery Council Code of Practice - 2015. The Code - Professional standards of practice and behaviour for nurses and midwives.
2. Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy – a tube inserted into the stomach which allows patients who are unable to swallow to stay hydrated and fed.
3. Paulo Freire, an educationalist, introduced literacy classes to poor adults in Brazil. He believed that adults shouldn’t be seen as empty vessels who need to be filled up with the lecturer’s expertise, rather they can apply new learning and theories to their own experience and understanding of the world.