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Nursing school is hard. You are going to be stressed during placements. So we are going to explore the situation if you ended up failing placement and what to do when applying for jobs. The following is from our own experience in Victoria, Australia. It should apply anywhere however certain processes will differ.

Firstly, “failure” is normal and common and it’s a matter of how you pick yourself back up and learn from it! Change your framing of the issue. As a student, we go from ground zero of knowing not much about a topic to being able to perform under assessment in a short period of time. While you may not have succeeded the first time you are most likely going to, the second time with an even greater workload. Adversary, and pushing through hard times like failing a placement reflects very well personally and professionally when presented that way.

So how do you fail a placement? There are a range of potential causes, read your schools specific policy. But generally it could be because of:

  • Unprofessional conduct, behaving inappropriately
  • Not having the right standard of theory knowledge or ability to undertake the practical assessments
  • Unsafe medication administration
  • Just having really harsh preceptors
  • Missing your labs

What would happen…

Before you even get to this point of failing placement, your preceptor and clinical educator shouldn’t be able to fail you without advising the university. This may be via you uploading a formative assessment half way through your placement which lets the university know where you are at. It would be logical to assume that you would be put on whats known as a ‘learning contract’ which is a plan in place to try focus on areas you need improvement in and thus help you pass the placement.

If the preceptor/clinical educator don’t follow the processes of your school and completely disregard these steps then this will work in your favour in being able to appeal by following your university/faculty’s policy on the procedure for appealing it.

When you are feeling like you are struggling, or are being told you are, speak to your teachers at university or tafe! They are your best bet of being able to help you improve. Also ask the clinical educator if you can ‘shadow’ well performing students for a shift and see how they approach their shift.

Figure out where you need to improve and make sure you clearly understand the expectation of you. Ie: when giving medications you should know what the drug does, when you shouldn’t give it, why you’re giving it and side effects to be aware of.

At the start of your shift you should also tell the buddy nurse what your learning goals for the shift are. Ie: “Hey…my name’s…, so I’m a 2nd semester student and my goals for today are to try get better at following my shift planner and taking 2 patients independently with minimal prompts’, so I’d love it if you could give me your opinion on how you think I am going in those areas’.

What about graduate jobs?

Hospitals are all looking for different things, they have different cultures and values. However, the vast majority of employers are looking for nurses who honest and transparent and willing to learn.

Should I mention it in an application? There is no correct answer to whether or not you should mention your past history of failing placement on a cover letter. However, our view would be that if asked about your failed placement, be upfront, and frame the issue as a learning and growth opportunity. Indeed, many recruiters actually like having it stated in the cover letter and put in in the open, not swept under the rug.

Frame it simply and briefly somewhere in the cover letter, noting that it was something that happened and then give an explanation of maybe why it happened (ie: pregnant at the time, family issues, academically struggled) and then how you overcame it (show how it built character and came back the next semester with a fresh perspectives of your strengths and weaknesses and how you aced it on attempt 2!)

nurses care more about your improvement than dwelling on the past…

It is about viewing this stressful scenario as a second chance to prove yourself, accept feedback and grow from it and then subsequently apply this into your practice.

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Thanks for reading. In the reply section below it’s now your turn to comment your questions and other tips!