Kiara Thomas is a 2nd year nursing student based in Tasmania and gives you her insider perspective of studying nursing in 2020. A must read for all nursing students in Australia. From tips for fellow student nurses for assignments, to avoiding common mistakes and so much more – we hope you enjoy Kiara’s article. For other student nurse articles go here after you read this one!

Tell us about yourself?

Hello everyone! My name is Kiara and I have just finished my second year of my Bachelor of Nursing with the University of Tasmania. For 2020, I was a nursing student ambassador, a PASS leader (Peer Assisted Study Sessions) and I admined two nursing facebook groups for year 1 and year 2 students, all whilst studying online thanks to COVID-19 *sigh*. I am a wife and mother to 1 little boy who is on the Autism Spectrum.

Why did I choose nursing?

Well, I think I could answer that differently every single day. There is no real point in my life that I went “Yep, I want to be a nurse” but more of a point where I thought to myself, Okay, I think I would like to be in the healthcare field. I researched about all of the different roles available and none really felt right. One day, my son, who was 6 months old at the time, had an anaphylactic reaction to egg. I can recall the events of that day so clearly.

The thing I can remember the most is the words spoken from the team of nurses we worked with. How they communicated with each other and the surrounding team, then relaying back to me. How they comforted me and how professional they all were. I was just in ore. I felt like I could see a glow around them, and I thought – Hey, I could be that person for someone else one day. So, I pulled up more big girl socks and took the plunge.

Now, the reason I want to be a nurse after having some exposure to the field – I love the variety that nursing offers. Bedside nursing may not be for everyone, so you could then work in clinics, or policies, or in helicopters, or out in the community etc. The list is endless, and I just love that about nursing.

Classes you have taken at university?

For my first year, the subjects were the very foundation. We learnt a basic understanding of vital signs, data interpretation, how to write assignments and reference them, we learnt about body systems, their anatomy and function. We learnt about the history of nursing and started paving the path for what our nursing career may look like. Moving into the second year, things became more complicated. We talked more about the what-ifs and the abnormal data, and what we will do about it.

We learnt more about specific conditions, such as an array of different mental health conditions and other major risk factors that are affecting our population today. We learnt more about pharmacology also. I love doing the anatomy and physiology classes. It’s a really great opportunity to learn and apply the science – couple it up with some practical hours and it makes for a really enjoyable learning experience.

Structure of your classes?

Well, 2020 has been messy – so we did mostly online tutorials for this year with 2 “intensive” workshops (1 in each semester). In these workshops, we would gather in a COVID-safe manner and learn the practical skills, giving us an opportunity to put into practice the theoretical principles we had learnt throughout the semester.

We still have professional placement. For year 2, that is 2×4 weeks of placement. This was a major highlight for the year. As I am sure you could imagine, learning nursing behind a computer screen is quite difficult – so being able to work with nurses and patients and apply our learnt skills is extremely valuable. Most of our lectures were recorded, so we watched old recordings of lectures each week.

What is a typical week like as a 2nd year nursing student?

Usually, all of our content is out by the week beginning Monday, and we were expected to have “done” the content before our tutorials over 2 days, usually on a Thursday and Friday. Tutorials would run from anywhere from 2-6 hours, it just depends on the unit. Our placement is at the end of the semester and we would go out in blocks for 4 weeks at a time.

Where have you had some of your placements?

I have had a placement in a small rural community hospital, where I saw mostly aged people who were waiting for a space in the local nursing home. I have had an ICU placement in a small city in Tasmania, called Burnie. I saw a lot of different things in there. I learnt mostly about difficult conversations and effective teamwork. I have an upcoming placement on a surgical ward, which I am looking forward to.

My first placement in the small rural community hospital was interesting. It had a one-bed emergency department where the nurses would tend to the presentations, and assess whether the patient needed to see a doctor. The doctor would be the GP on call from the local doctor’s surgery. This placement, I learnt a lot about the scope of practice for nursing, and just how much autonomy nurses can have. The nurses in rural community hospitals are amazing thinkers and quick on their feet.

Memorable placement moments?

On my first day of my ICU placement, actually, I think it was even my first hour of placement, the nurse I was working with tapped me on the shoulder and said come with me. I followed and she said, “Just stand here and watch this for 10 minutes”. I thought, oh okay – what is going on in here? As I watched, I saw consent forms being whizzed around the rooms, quick conversations and decision making happening, and a patient with their chest bare staring straight into my eyes.

One doctor had a BVM (Bag, valve, mask) above the patient’s head and another doctor was attaching a defibrillator to the patient, whilst another was drawing up a drug, and the nurse was monitoring the vital signs on the monitor. I had no idea what was going on. I told myself to remain calm and to ask questions later. The next minute, the drug was being administered, the patient became unconscious, the vital signs were dropping, the BVM was applied and a shock was being delivered. I had no idea what was going on! I didn’t know what my role was, “should I get in there I thought? Do I need to call for help?! Help is already here what is going on!?” I thought to myself.

Then, literally a few seconds later, the patient’s vital signs were stabilising and everyone was calm. They packed up, and a nurse stayed with the patient until they woke up, around 20 minutes later. I went over to the nurse I was working with and asked what had just happened? They explained to me that it was a procedure called a DCR (Direct Current Cardioversion). It’s a procedure that is used to shock the heart back into a normal sinus rhythm. I literally thought the patient had gone into a spontaneous myocardial infarction, I was so confused! Lest to say, I saw it plenty of times during my placement and I will never forget that feeling of being paralysed in fear.

What has surprised you the most about university?

I commend my university of how quickly they adjusted to a COVID-safe way of learning. They enabled and empowered us, students, to continue studying during the pandemic and gave us teachable moments about working through barriers.

What do you wish you knew before you started studying?

Haha, a lot more than I did. For me, it’s probably not about what I knew before studying, but more the expectation of myself. I expected myself to basically be some reincarnation of Florence Nightingale. I wanted to get all High distinctions and I wanted to move mountains in my degree. Mostly, I have achieved some really fantastic grades, even though COVID, but I think the demand of nursing school is more than anyone can ever explain to you. It’s rough, and it can get very lonely. All you can do is your best, however that looks. But, if you did want to do some reading before your degree starts, learn about the clinical reasoning cycle, and definitely watch some youtube videos on the nervous system!

What tips do you have for fellow students struggling with assignments?

Start early. Never do an assignment late. I have a saying “If it’s due in 2 weeks, it’s already late”. As soon as you get the assignment, plan it. Sit down, work out the word count, work out what the assignment is about, then break that down into a series of mini questions. Then divide the work count and provide yourself with say a 100 word count to answer 1 question from your mini series and provide 1 reference for each part. It breaks down the assignment writing process into bite-sized chunks, and it makes it much more achievable. If this doesn’t help – reach out to your unit coordinator and ask for some help. They are there to help you, and they would never want to see you fail. Another tip: trust and believe in yourself. You know more than you think you do. ????

Mistakes you have made that you suggest others avoid during studies?

Make the time to do something you love to do. Burnout is real. Student burnout is very real. You don’t have to move mountains to be amazing, you just need to be you. And if being you means walking with your dog along the beachfront whilst listening to a lecture about nursing and ethics, then so be it. If doing you is drinking a bottle of wine whilst quizzing yourself on Quizlet, then you go for it. Nursing school is like a lifestyle. You never stop studying, so you may as well find a way to incorporate your lifestyle habits into your study schedule.

Main challenges during your studies?

I found it hard to reach out for help with things that would become emotional. If I was feeling overwhelmed with the content or with a difficult presentation, I wouldn’t take the time to reflect on it or create a plan to help get myself through it. I am learning to ask for what I need and speak to the right people if something isn’t sitting right with me. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start to preventing burnout and mental exhaustion.

Which areas would you like to work in or specialise in and why?

Ohh I love this question. This answer changes for me each semester. When I started out, I wanted to work in emergency paediatrics. Now, I am learning more towards paediatrics, but I also love the idea of being in policies and procedures. Working with the best evidence to adjust our nursing practice, then being able to educate my colleagues on these policies and put them into practice. I have an idea that I would love to work part-time in a paediatric ward, to maintain and improve my nursing skills, then part-time in an office developing future nursing practice.

How have you financially support yourself during your studies?

Thankfully, my partner has been able to work whilst I study. They would take leave when I would go out on placement. I have worked with the university in a few leadership roles also that has contributed to being able to continue studying full time without the need for myself to work consistent hours.

What would make your studies better?

This doesn’t necessarily make my studies better, but it helped me to manage better and appear more organised. At the start of my degree, I was awarded a scholarship that allowed me to purchase an iPad Pro with an apple pencil. This saved me from a mountain load of printing. I was able to download all of my work, straight onto my iPad.

I would organise these into folders, labelled with the unit, then the week, then the topic. It is very handy at exam time when you crunched for time and tried to find something and know you saw it in the readings in week 4 when we were learning about vital signs. You can just, at a few taps, find everything you need quickly, and on the go.

What other advice would you give to future nursing students?

Go in with an open mind, a willingness to learn, an open schedule and a good set of compression socks. ????

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