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Clinical Placement, Personal skills, Support & Motivation

Is Fear Actually Your Friend?

I barely slept the night before my first ever day on clinical placement.

My mind was racing….what if they ask me things I don’t know, will they think I’m not good enough to be a nurse? What will they ask me to do, I’ve never worked in a hospital before, I don’t know anything!

Driving there I could feel my hands shaking, my mouth was dry, I felt sick. Even though I was lucky enough to have my first placement in a community hospital with 2 other students from my course, I was still terrified.

After getting a tour of the ward & meeting my mentor, I finally started to relax a bit. She made it clear that we weren’t expected to do too much on our first day & we would be spending some time learning the daily routine of the ward.

Looking back, we were incredibly fortunate to have such a supportive mentor & placement, which allowed more time for us to learn basic clinical skills. 

I’ll never forget the first patient who walked into the minor injuries unit that was attached to the hospital. He’d sliced his thumb whilst working nearby & our mentor called us in to assess him.

The wound was only minor & just required cleaning & dressing. But my stomach dropped through the floor when she asked which one of us would be doing it.

We haven’t been shown how to do it properly, or even watched a nurse correctly clean & dress a wound yet, I thought. How do we know what to do or what to use? Luckily my friend volunteered after the rest of us said no, & our mentor talked us all through the process whilst supervising her. 

5 years later & we still laugh about that day, & about how scared we were of just dressing a small cut. But really what we were scared of was the responsibility.

We had a uniform now, we were responsible for providing care, patients trusted us to get things right.

That’s what we were really scared of & you should never lose that. 

Having that fear when you’re caring for a patient & you don’t know what to do is a good thing.

It makes you recognise where you might be out of your depth, & you might need further support & training, so you can provide the best care for them.

Of course, a lot of that fear could just be that you’re learning a new skill & still building your confidence in your abilities.

But this is normal & carries on well beyond qualifying, as you go on to learn more & more new clinical skills as a nurse.

Now let’s be clear – fear, nerves, & anxiety are all not the same thing.

They might all be seen as negative emotions, but when fear & anxiety get to point where it feels like it’s taking over your daily life it could be a mental health problem. You can find further information & support for this online & from your GP.   

Feeling nervous when faced with something new is normal & healthy. If you are not nervous & are complacent this can actually be dangerous.

You are not recognising your own capabilities which could result in you working beyond your competency, with the potential of harm being caused as a result.

For example, you may be asked to help a patient with eating. You may have seen other staff assisting patients with eating, but you have never actually been trained on how to asses a patient’s swallow function, or how to feed them safely. However instead of feeling nervous about this & letting staff know you have never done this before, you agree to help & start to feed the patient who begins to choke on their food. 

Although this seems a pretty extreme example, unfortunately it does happen. That’s why fear is not always a bad thing. It can create that middle ground, from being totally overwhelmed by fear….to being so relaxed you aren’t even concerned of potential consequences. The key is to recognising fear & using it to guide you.

Connect with The Student Nurse Guide & let me know what you would like to see more of? How can we support & help you? What questions do you have that you are too afraid to ask? Send us a message or comment below with what you want to know.

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2 thoughts on “Is Fear Actually Your Friend?”

  1. These are words I needed to hear. I am a newly qualified nurse and although I have now been non supernumerary for the last 3 weeks I am still faced with new patients and new things I haven’t done or not fully confident in doing – fear and anxiety kick in, but instead of shying away from it I try and do it and if I need help I’ll always ask.

    1. It’s true what they say….you never stop learning when you’re a nurse! Hope you’re being supported in your role, it’s easy to forget that you’re not expected to know everything when you’re newly qualified. If you’re asking for help when you need it, then sounds like you’re doing fab job

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