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The Unofficial Guide to Your First Ever Nursing Placement

Placement truly is where you learn your nursing craft, but it can be terrifying if you don’t know what to expect. Make sure you're prepared with Nursing students Megan and Patrina's amazing guide to placements!

Megan, Patrina and the epad
Megan, Patrina and everything you need to go on placement

So, you’ve just got into nursing at Queen’s university, and you can’t fully believe it! You’ve bought yourself a new file block and are getting into the swing of lectures, workshops, tutorials, and clinical skill sessions. You’ve downloaded canvas onto your phone or tablet and have finally caught on to what MBC (Medical Biology Centre) and WMB (Whitla Medical Building) stands for on your timetable.

You're bonding with your new classmates and finding the best places for a cheap lunch on the Lisburn Road when suddenly, this nice new ‘studenty’ routine gets thrown into disarray by the need to go out on PLACEMENT

Patrinas tweet and selfie

Placement truly is where you learn your craft

But, it can be terrifying if you don’t know what to expect and have never been in a specific clinical environment before. Gone is the comfort of the university staff guiding you through different scenarios and gone is the comfort of your classmates to help you out when you’re unsure of something.

Placement means real people in real life and being a nursing student can be a big responsibility. During the degree course you’ll be out on placement a whooping nine times! However, please don’t get overwhelmed at this prospect as placement can be a wonderful experience when you really find out who you truly are and what area of nursing could suit you best.

So, to help make placement a little less intimidating, we’ve created this little unofficial guide to placement to make the lead up to starting a little less nerve-wracking.

The dreaded phone call

Do not contact placement more than 2 weeks before you are due to go out into practice. Some places may not even have their own staff’s off-duty organised at this point never mind an incoming student’s, especially in areas which have an ongoing flow of students coming and going.

You will find all the contact details for placement in your INPLACE account. You will find a number and an email address that is provided with the words “student contact” beside it. Please try phoning before resorting to emailing. It’s nicer to speak to the person who you are going to be working alongside for at least 5 weeks, plus it’s a good time to ask about anything you’re not sure of (like COVID policies) or if you have certain dates you are unavailable, now is the time to let them know!

If you are ringing, please be mindful that the wards are busy (especially in the morning), and you might not get the person you are looking for or get through to the ward in general (It can take several attempts to get through so please don’t be disheartened). If you do e-mail, make sure there is a professional tone (no emojis) and only sent from your Queen's ACCOUNT.

Patrinas tweet

Where is this place?!!

It can be a massive shock to some people when they realise that their placement isn’t just down the road from them, and they might have to travel to an unfamiliar town that could be 40 miles away (true story and contrary to popular belief there are no allowances made for students with children). Make sure you know exactly where you are going and be 100% confident that you will get there on time.

Consider your travel time and factor in parking

Hospitals can have a lot of traffic depending on the time of day plus it might take you a while to find a spot. It could be useful to do a trial run if it’s an unfamiliar area, leaving at the time you think would be suitable to leave and park your car and walk up to the ward you are due to go to. It’ll help you know if there’s much parking available and if there’s a parking fee. Please do the same if travelling by public transport!

This can make all the difference between helping you feel in control and starting on a good note with the staff or started feeling out of control and flustered. Lateness for the patient handover report is very unprofessional and you want to show the best side of yourself.

Megan#s tweet

Preparing for your first day selfie!

The nursing uniform is part of your identity as a Queen’s nursing student. This is something Queen's take pride in, and you should too.

However, DO NOT TAKE INAPPROPRIATE PICTURES IN YOUR UNIFORM PRACTICE AND UPLOAD THEM TO SOCIAL MEDIA! Photos with patient’s is always a big No Go (even if you are their favourite student). If you're taking a photo outside a ward/hospital, please ensure that you are authorised to do so and be mindful of who or what is in the background.

Feeling like a lost puppy

Every student will be introduced to the practice setting. This is usually very informal with something like a small tour or a casual chat at the nurse’s station. You will be assigned a practice supervisor to work with each day and sometimes you will feel like a toddler simply following them around and that’s ok! Everyone feels like this!

As you familiarise yourself with the setting and start to gain confidence, you’ll find you will be able to be yourself more and more. Don’t be afraid to do things that are within your skill set without being asked first. Plus, don’t feel that you are only being used as a healthcare assistant whilst there. Healthcare assistant skills underpin fundamental nursing practices and are extremely important to be familiar with. So go in and experience real life nursing!

Megans tweet

Watch how to position a patient properly, help with personal care and elimination needs, practice how to fold sheet corners properly. A simple wash of the face for some patients can go a long way. If you can take initiative to help with fundamental nursing skills, then your supervisor will not only have more time for you but will also see you as being capable of maybe observing and participating in other skills too.


You may find that you are flat-out doing hourly/4/6-8/12 hourly observations! You might feel like this is the only thing you are used for at times but again, USE this time to your advantage to ensure you can do them back to front and upside down and can complete them on a wide variety of patients. They are done for a reason and the sooner you realise this the better!

Work on your communication skills

Use every opportunity to work on communication skills. Whether this is with nurses, consultants, porters, or cooks. It can be nerve-wracking trying to slip into an established team, but it really is important to talk to others and have your say on things. Whether your there 5 weeks or 5 years, you see things that others might have missed so form these bonds and speak up when needed.

Take time to talk with your patients

They are the people you are here for. Simple things like "how are you feeling today? Sorry, I disturbed you, I’m sure you are shattered getting woken up for this observation. Have you any visitors today? What’s that book you’re reading?" etc. most patients will talk away to you because sometimes you are the only person, they might have had a decent conversation with all day. You’ll find it’s these interactions that will help shape you as a future nurse.

Megan and Patrina at the MBC

Don't forget your EPAD

Ah the good old EPAD/NIPAD/portfolio/practice document or whatever you want to call it

Whether or not the thought of the EPAD sends shivers down your spine, it is a vital part of the nursing curriculum. It is how you prove that you are gaining skills and experience out in practice. Just remember, it is a marathon not a sprint!

It’s easy to focus solely on your EPAD but it is only part of your experience (think recording a whole concert on your phone instead of living in the moment and enjoying it!) But do not ignore it! It is your responsibility to get it filled in and nurses on placement will have no idea whether your is nearly complete or sitting empty. You need to tell them!

The EPAD is relatively new so not everyone will be familiar with it, again, tell them! Bring it in to daily conversations – it might be the only thing on your mind, but it won’t be on your supervisor’s unless you tell them. Also, be aware that some placements will let you tear away with portfolio work whereas others would prefer you gained hands on experience and that you do your EPAD work at home – be prepared for this. Save your work and tell them you need something signed off when you get the next available opportunity.

epad on a tablet

Some days can be hard!

Like real life, placement is not all sunshine and rainbows. It can be hard! It is tiring and can be somewhat challenging, especially if you find your placement is not what you expected, wanted or simply because you find it difficult.

Roll in with that a few assignments that are due, EPAD work and family life and it’s easy to see why things can get tough. Plus, not every healthcare professional you meet along the way is nice. Some can be quite rude and unprofessional; they are human beings too and might just be having a bad day. But hey that’s on them not you!

Not all placements can be accommodating when it comes to childcare. If you take anything away from a difficult and challenging placement it’s how not to be when you get your blues! If you can find one good thing each day whether it’s getting something completed on your EPAD or even if it’s just a case of finding the plasters on your own or knowing exactly what urine sample bottle they need, it will help you get through challenging times. Remember to be proud of yourself and to celebrate the little wins!

Every one of us has a different journey and just because one placement area was hard and challenging for others doesn’t mean it’s going to be for you! Have an open mind and enjoy it all because you are never going to get the days back and you are never going to have the same day twice!

Megan and Patrina at the MBC


There will be tears but also plenty of smiles! Honestly, it is so worth it!! You do and you will get amazing placements and they are the placements you will thrive in without even knowing! So please take it all in and enjoy it all because before you know it the first year will be finished! 

If by any chance you do find yourself struggling out on practice, please know your limits and know your boundaries! Speak to someone whether it’s someone out on placement, staff at Queen’s, a classmate or a peer mentor.

We have been there, and we’ve done it! We’ve cried, laughed, and been scared out of our wits and even been like, ‘what just happened?!’ We are here and are cheering you on and hoping you can look back in three years’ time with a sense of pride with all you have achieved!

Find out more

Learning Disability Nursing

Adult Nursing

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Megan Meek | Patrina Loughran | Nursing |Undergraduate Students | N.I

Written by Megan Meek (Adult Nursing) and Patrina Loughran (Learning Disability Nursing). Megan and Patrina are both second year students who met through the Peer Mentor Scheme.

Megan and Patrina