We interviewed recently nursing student and now Registered Nurse Lillian Piriantinski. She studied the graduate entry to nursing 2 year Master of Nursing Practice from Monash University.

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Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to pursue nursing?

Although nursing is the third degree I have completed, it is a career that I have been interested in since high school. Of course, when I was still in school and trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, I felt confused, scared of making the wrong decision and I truly had little idea as to how much nursing as a career had to offer. Naturally, I decided to instead choose to complete the two broadest degrees I could think of.

After completing my Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees, I was certain that nursing was my next step. At this point, I felt confident that I had chosen to pursue a career that was not only meaningful but also challenging and flexible enough that I would never feel unsatisfied in my role as a Registered Nurse. I truly hope that if I were to ever look back on this article several years down the track, that I won’t have to eat my words.

How would you describe nursing?

I have come across a number of interesting ways to describe ‘The Nurse’. A nurse is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. A nurse is the eyes and ears of the doctor. A nurse is a person trained to care for the sick or infirm, especially in a hospital. The latter is of course straight from Merriam-Webster. But let’s go back to the one that describes us as a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Some people take offence to this saying, but it’s truly great. You, a nurse, have been described as a polymath – almost. An individual who is competent enough to hold a wide array of skills and knowledge.

 Nursing is a great field in that it allows you to know as much or as little as you so choose (after an already set knowledge baseline). You have the choice to drift through your shift, administering medications because the chart said so, assessing your patients because the chart says to, changing a patient’s pad because you’re a decent human being who doesn’t want to see your patient feeling uncomfortable and undignified.

Or you can act with purpose, use those abstract critical thinking skills that those university lecturers keep talking about. Know your medications, prevent errors. Assess your patients not just because you’re told to but because you see a reason to. Of course, always to your best efforts, make sure your patient is comfortable and filled with dignity. Nurses are with the patients the most amount of time out of the whole multidisciplinary team involved in the patient’s care. We are absolutely the eyes and ears of not just the doctors, but of allied health and the patient’s family. We have the opportunity to see so much more, therefore it is always good to be able to understand what it is that we are seeing.

What have been some classes you have taken as a nursing student?

My favourite classes at university were our Clinical Learning Environment sessions or ‘CLEs’ for short. This was our opportunity to learn and practice our nursing skills on each other and on life-size adult simulation mannequins. This was fun and sometimes nerve-wracking. I believe that understanding the theory behind what we do as nurses is extremely important to be competent and highly skilled. Understanding why you are doing something for a patient as opposed to simply doing it because you were told to, in my opinion, helps you take initiative and it can help you tailor your care specifically to your patients. Having said that, actually getting to practice what you will be doing out on placement felt somewhat more meaningful at the time, because so much of nursing is learning by doing.

What are the structure of your classes?

The classes I had in the Master of Nursing Practice course were predominantly workshops that ran for 3-4 hours, and our CLE’s which ran for 2 hours each. Initially, the thought of sitting in one class for 4 hours at a time seemed tedious and tiring, however, the workshops were designed to take aspects of a lecture and a tutorial and combine them into one longer session. The inclusion of group discussions, case studies, activities and mini-quizzes made these workshops quite engaging and overall enjoyable. Depending on the semester, I either had block placements at the end of the semester or integrated placements during the semester. Oftentimes, I found clinical placements to be fairly tiring. Physically, you’re working a full 8-hour shift, on your feet, trying to take in a new clinical environment and absorbing so much information, all whilst you still need to keep on top of your assignments and weekly readings and quizzes.

What is a typical week like as a nursing student?

Each of my semesters presented differently when it came to placement structure, so I am going to focus on my final semester in which my clinical placement was integrated. Every other week I had a placement for 5 days, and on the weeks I didn’t have placement I had classes – let’s call these my ‘theory weeks’. But because every other week was dedicated to placement, each theory week needed to include two weeks worth of content. So having said that, I found it difficult to study a considerable amount on the days I had placement due to being physically and mentally tired, so the majority of my studying was done on my days off and during my theory weeks. Two of my assignments actually required me to utilise my placement experiences so in that case, I was studying after my shifts.

What are your placements like?

I was fortunate enough to be able to have placements not only in several different hospitals but in a variety of wards. Each placement was different. Although I had two of my acute placements at The Alfred, one was in Trauma and Orthopaedics, whilst the other in Cardiothoracics. I also had the opportunity to have a placement at Cabrini Hospital in their General Medicine ward. My favourite placement was probably in the Trauma and Orthopaedics ward at Alfred Hospital.

I remember being really eager to learn about my patients. What made it better was that at this point there wasn’t the pressure to take on a full patient load, so I was able to really take advantage of my time and have an in-depth understanding of why my patients were there. As the ward name suggests, I saw a number of traumatic presentations. Individuals in major motor vehicle accidents, many falls, bone fractures, and extreme sporting accidents. I genuinely believe that every ward will give you the opportunity to enhance your clinical knowledge because you realise very quickly that a patient’s presenting problem will often not be their only problem.

What are some interesting things you saw?

This isn’t a specific example, but something that truly always leaves me in wonderment is seeing patients that have severely deteriorated and sometimes were so close to having died, and then you come back a week later to see them walking, talking, and smiling. You would never have been able to guess that they were in terribly dire straits just a few days prior. It is truly amazing to see the advances of modern medicine doing its part for our patients, and it is all because of the doctors, nurses and allied health teams doing what they do every day.

What has surprised you the most about university?

I wouldn’t say there was much that surprised me. That is not to say everything was easy, rather the emotions I felt differed from surprise. I felt scared, anxious, and worried. Scared that I would make mistakes during placement. Anxious before all of my shifts, and worried that I forgot to do something after they had finished.

What do you wish you knew before you started studying?

I wish I knew that more often than not, my questions would never have a straightforward answer. I would either hear “it depends”, or get several answers from several nurses all deeming their answer to be “best practice”. The science is always changing and updating, and so it genuinely would be hard to stay on top of it, especially if you are working full time.

Tips do you have for future nursing students struggling with assignments?

I will start by saying that your performance on assignments does not define your intelligence, and the amount of effort you put in may not necessarily accurately predict your grade. There are also other factors to consider. What kind of assignment is it and does it play to your strengths? Is the marker harsh?

What has always helped me with assignments is to always:

  1. Start early. It can be as simple as reading the rubric and assessment instructions. Once you have that small piece of information stored in your memory, your brain has the capacity to problem solve without you consciously being aware of it.
  2. Plan out what you want to write. It doesn’t have to be a detailed plan, it just helps to build a structure and to streamline your ideas.
  3. Make drafts. Preferably more than one before the due date.
  4. Take a break, come back and edit your work. It is best to leave a gap between writing a draft and editing your work. This will allow you to be more critical as you’ve essentially removed a lot of your personal attachment you may have made with your writing by physically distancing yourself and redirecting your thoughts.
  5. Ask your friends for help. It is always a good idea to get a second or third opinion.

Mistakes you wish you’d avoided?

Essentially not doing the things that I have mentioned above. But also trying to multitask during study sessions – and by multi-task, I mean trying to study but also thinking you can watch TV at the same time. Not reading the assessment rubric is a mistake that should also not be made. Having said that, I have encountered some great rubrics and some subpar rubrics, so it is important that you utilise communication between yourself and your lecturer/teacher. If you are unsure, it is always important that you ask for clarification before it is too late. This is relevant not only for assignments but during clinical placements as well.

Main challenges during your studies?

I would consider a lack of assertiveness to have been my main challenge throughout my nursing degree. That’s not to say I have overcome it, but having that placement experience definitely helped improve my confidence and consequently my assertiveness. I find that people respect that trait and are more receptive when talking to someone who exhibits assertiveness.

Which area would you like to work in or specialise in?

I applied and fortunately got accepted to work at a specialist hospital in their NICU/Special Care Nursery (SCN) in 2021. To work in a NICU was my ultimate number one preference and I am beyond grateful to have been given this opportunity to care for neonates as my first official nursing job. I would eventually like to complete post-graduate studies in neonatal care as well as take steps to also become a lactation consultant. I chose to pursue this nursing speciality primarily because I studied developmental biology in my science undergraduate degree, and found it to be an extremely fascinating field. I wanted to somehow be able to utilise this foundational knowledge in my nursing career, and neonatal nursing seemed like a great way to do so.

How have you financially support yourself during your studies?

I was fortunate enough to be able to live at home with my parents, so rent was not an issue for me thankfully. I also have a good amount of savings that I accumulated over the years so during the weeks when I had placement and couldn’t work at my regular job that actually paid me, I was still financially okay.

Advice for future students thinking about nursing?

Nursing is extremely flexible as a career, and the degree that you hold is valuable not just in a hospital setting. You have the opportunity to upskill, pursue further studies, move up clinically or pursue a more managerial career pathway. If you are unsure what you want to do or even if you are sure, listen to the more experienced nurses, but don’t blindly follow advice, it is your life after all as well as your mistakes and successes.

What would make your studies better?

This sounds terrible, but more exams would be ideal for certain subjects, as well as longer practical skills classes.

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