4 February, 2020


So, first year is over and I am now a fully fledged second year student nurse. The first year in all honesty, absolutely flew by. I cannot stress enough how glad I am that I made the decision to go back to University and gain a BSc in Adult Nursing. I receive a lot of questions through my student nurse instagram about the structure of the course, how I find studying alongside placement and many other topics, so thought it would make sense to jot it all down in one place as a kind of go to for the first year as a student nurse!

A few people asked about why I decided to study Nursing, and I think this post best explains that, rather than me talking about it again!

So a bit (correction, alot!) about the structure of my first year. Remember that each university is different and I started my course in January 2019, so my course structure is different in terms of holidays due to the different start time. Nevertheless, there will be some similarities uni to uni. So when I first started university we had 2 weeks of introduction, this was just to familiarise us with the course structure, who people were and what to expect from first year. We then had 7 weeks of theory. These 7 weeks were split into skills and bioscience, ready for our first placement block and bioscience exam. The bioscience topics covered at this point were:

And the skills during this module were:

At this point, we also started to look at medicines management as we had our first calculations exam in May, around the same time as our first bioscience exam. During the 7 week theory block, we also got put into groups where we had a few weeks to put together a presentation on a chosen client group and discuss issues such as stereotypes, access to health care and so on. After the first 7 week block of theory, we had a week of annual leave which went straight into one week of placement induction at our hospital trust, going through things like how to use the hospital system, fire safety and much more. I then went straight into a 6 week placement block in a care home. This was great to solidify fundamentals of care in nursing and a lot of practice with care plans. Also a huge learning curve in communication as many patients were non-verbal or needed basic language to understand conversations. During this placement is when I sat the first bioscience and medication exam. Then another week of annual leave before an 8 week theory block. This time more bioscience, the topics were:

This block of theory also covered reflective models, where we had a 3000 word essay to write based on a scenario from our first placement. I chose a medicines management scenario where a patient who lacked capacity to make informed decisions declined medication and the way this was managed both by myself and the nurse. We also carried on with skills during this block and we covered:

This theory block was followed by 3 weeks of annual leave and then straight into an 8 week placement block and we took the second bioscience exam half way through this 8 weeks. My second placement was 8 weeks on a neurology/neurosurgery ward and I absolutely LOVED this placement. This placement gave me such a huge insight into the management of long term conditions, management of surgical patients and the importance of neurological observations. As it was my first hospital placement I gained knowledge on the roles of the multidisciplinary team, inpatient services, the hospital journey from admission to discharge, whether because of an emergency, or in other cases for elective surgery. I got the chance to spend a day in theatre seeing things such as resections of brain tumours and awake craniotomy. I got to put into practice many skills during these 8 weeks like injections and pain management as well as new skills such as tracheostomy care and catheter care and really noticed here just how much I had actually learnt over the course of 8 months at uni, this placement really excited me and made me motivated to learn. This concluded both of the core placements and I was SO happy to finish with 100% in both!

The type of work we had to do on placement to gain grades included learning outcomes, feedback from two patients, patient pathways, formative assessments which then led on to formulating an action plan to ensure that I could pass the summative assessment. Any feedback such as the formative assessment gained from my mentor I also had to write feedback on.

Straight after this 8 week block I went into a further 4 week insight placement block, however this was not core placement and therefore not graded. I had 2 x 2 week insights, and still had to complete learning outcomes for one of the 2 week blocks. I spent my first 2 weeks in Plastic Surgery, one week on a day unit which was for outpatient wound care. I really got to grips with aseptic technique as well as all types of wound care and the different types of dressing here. I then spent a week between the consultants clinics, meeting new patients and follow up patients for things such as skin cancer, breast cancer, hand and wrist injuries and also minor theatre where I got to see a lot of skin cancer removal and skin grafts. The theatre nurse in here was so lovely and let me do a lot of sterile set up, as well as assisting the surgeons, was great to scrub in and get really hands on.

The second block of 2 weeks insight I spent in different outpatients clinic and basically followed consultants, registrars and specialist nurses throughout their appointments for 2 weeks. From Hepatology, Respiratory, Geriatric, Infectious Diseases to Allergy/Immunology, I really saw a lot here and this really solidified a lot of my bioscience knowledge. I found this 2 weeks hard as I basically just sat and listened and I love being hands on, however I did learn a lot in a short space of time in terms of medical knowledge.

Once this placement was finished we just had a few weeks of theory before Christmas! This covered insights into Maternity, Learning Disabilities, Mental Health and a bit about what to expect in second year. We also had to hand in portfolios of evidence we had been collecting over first year. Phew, I hadn’t actually realised until I wrote that all down how much had gone on in just 11 short months!

Managing Workload and Exam Prep

So… onto a bit more about how I actually found the experience of my first year as a student nurse! One of the biggest conversations surrounding student nurses is the balance between studying, work load and placements and I think the biggest issue I found was how up and down it can be. There certainly always is something that you can be researching and learning, but at times you do feel like you have maybe more free time than you expected (although I try not to have too much free time and use days of wisely to get ahead with work and go over and over topics so it is stuck in my head) and then the next minute you are working night shifts, 13 hour shifts and are completely exhausted from the travel as well as revising for an upcoming exam. The main point I would make here is to be organised and keep on top of your work. I know that sounds so obvious, but it is so easy to use theory blocks as a time to chill out and do anything other but work, but actually getting on top of revision, essays that are due in whilst on placement and all of the other stuff like e-learning and portfolio work really does help with life whilst on placement. This allows you to cut yourself a bit of slack whilst you’re working those long hours and not be up until stupid o’clock trying to cram everything in, especially if you have to work on top of placement hours.

Besides this, I actually found the workload in first year quite manageable. Like anybody there are days when I wake up and think stuff this, I actually cannot be bothered. But most of the time I am quite motivated and I think this helps to keep on top of everything. I tend to write a list of what I need to get done each week and then divide this into smaller daily lists which makes it more manageable and not overwhelming. I also try to just get over it if I don’t finish something on a set day, as long as it doesn’t need finishing that day, as otherwise it just becomes a string of beating yourself up and this actually makes me less productive!

In terms of exams, as soon as you start the topic try and get a head start. Look at work before the lectures, revise as much as possible and do practice questions over and over and over. For my bioscience exam I did practice exams and wrote down all of the questions and answers and didn’t stop until I knew them inside out. If you are struggling with a particular topic, use YouTube to help you get to grips with the system. There are plenty of videos which go through in simple steps each system and this really helps.

For both essays and exams I would say read, a lot!! A few people at Uni always say how much I read, but I honestly think it helps so much. Read books that relate to university, but also books that don’t. It will massively help with vocabulary, grammar and structure when writing essays. Reading around topics that you include in essays or have to know for exams gives you a head start and I honestly just cannot recommend it enough. You will pick up on a lot of information by reading a multitude of books that you don’t get through just lectures or information online.

Highs and Lows

It is without a doubt that there are many highs and lows of this course, but I am positive that the highs much outweigh the lows. Here a few that I have felt over the course of my first year.



A few tips for placement to get the most out of your experience

I would urge you to gain feedback from not only your mentor, now called assessors, but any of the healthcare professionals you work with. Be brave and ask them to write even just one line and sign it for you, you can use this in your portfolio when you apply for jobs.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and speak to anyone on the wards, this is how you end up being able to spend time with specialist teams and see the really interesting stuff on placement that you probably won’t be able to do once qualified. It is definitely true that you make your placement what it is. Some placements can be difficult and you feel like a spare part, but you honestly get such a different experience if you just ask anybody what you can help with and if you can observe. I am always asking doctors, specialist nurses, physios and basically anyone if I can observe if I think it is appropriate. Don’t be upset if they say no, it isn’t personal!

So that concludes a mammoth round up of first year!! There is still SO much I could talk about and a lot of questions unanswered which I got asked for this post. I will definitely start doing further posts on the smaller topics so that I can include more information as it really is helpful hearing how other people get through this degree, healthcare degrees are certainly like no other!

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and please message me if you have any questions or just want to chat abit more about being a student nurse!

Frances x



  1. Deborah grant says:

    Love your re-cap. Kind of wish we were on the new curriculum. We did none of the skills you did after your first placement and our placements weren’t/aren’t graded. Did you not do an OSCE in first year

  2. Frances Hemmant says:

    It’s odd how every uni does things differently isn’t it? Our placements have actually just stopped being graded, which I think is a bit rubbish! No, no OSCEs xx

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