Lauren O’Toole – Final Year Student Nurse

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A Day in the Life of an Apprentice Student Nurse


Preparing for placement 

Preparing for placement is one of the most important things for me personally. I like to know my routine and surroundings as much as possible prior to placement therefore when I am notified of my placement area, I also email the student liaison 6 weeks before placement. I introduce myself, ask if there is any pre-reading that they would recommend me to read and either organise a meeting with the liaison or discuss shifts. This allows me to understand the area that I will be working in more, get to know my educator a bit more and break the ice.

Once I know where my placement is I aways check out the route and travel time prior to my first shift, fortunately my placements have been at hospitals which I am familiar with, but traffic and parking can always change and be different. I personally drive myself, but my colleagues have carpooled together to save money or used public transport. It is always helpful to ask your education/liaison the situation with parking and public transport as parking on site can sometimes endure a charge as well as public transport not being close by. I also factor in 15 minutes prior to my shift start time to settle myself on shift and prepare for handover.

Shifts can vary based on which placement you are on, they can be 7 hours or sometimes 12-14 hours long, so prepping is vital! I always batch cook my lunches or prep them the night before to save myself time. As well as meals (sometimes breakfast, lunch, and dinner!) I always load up on snacks, these can be fruit, nuts, shakes and always something sweet. It’s important to remember that you will be on your feet for long periods of time and seeing things that can make you feel lightheaded or queasy, purely because of the energy you are burning whilst working (no matter how strong your stomach is!). If you work night shifts at any point, I recommend having caffeine throughout the night to keep you alert and get into a good routine of sleep and re-energizing when you get home.

My last placement was actually at my workplace doing a ward-based placement with our elective surgery placements, I chose to do 14 hour shifts to gain as many hours as possible, these shifts were 7:00am – 9:00pm. The shift usually consisted of being allocated a theatre list to run as well as inpatients to care for. Some theatre lists would include day case surgery patients, meaning we had a quick turn around from admission through to discharge within one day.

6:50am – Arrive at placement and put belongings in locker.

7:00am – Following allocation, begin handover with the night nurses and prepare for any admissions that may have been allocated to you.

7:45am – Admit patients for surgery including observations, blood sugars, theatre check lists, pregnancy tests, ensuring that all scans are available, carry out ecg’s if required, fit for stockings and gowns and documentation.

8:00am – 11:00am – Drug rounds for inpatients, take patients down to theatre for surgery (including assisting ODP and anaesthetist with observations), assist with washing and dressing inpatients.

11:00am – 11:15am – Tea break!

11:15am – 1:30pm – Collect patients and handover from recovery staff and bring post-op care (observations ½ hourly, drug rounds, any IV fluids that may have been prescribed, fluid balance charts and catheter management, check blood results). Working with your supervisor or assessor to raise any concerns you may have. This also includes checking the TTA’s and working with the pharmacist to prepare medications for patients to take home.

1:30pm – 2:00pm – Lunch break! At this point handover may be commencing for any staff members who are finishing the early shift and beginning the late shift.

2:00pm – 6:00pm – Continue with post op observations (using the NEWS2 chart to guide you with escalation), drug rounds and begin discharge paper work for any patients that may be being discharged (TTA’s, post op appointments and post op advice leaflets), cannular removal and discharging the patient with advice and medication management.

6:00pm – 6:15pm – Tea Break!

6:15pm – 8:00pm – Assist any inpatients or post op patients with dinner, continue with routine observations, drug rounds and pain management and documentation. It’s at this point that we would usually prepare our notes for handover for the night shift staff.

8:30pm – Night shift staff arrive and handover begins.

9:00pm – Home time for rest and recharging!

It is important to remember that based on your placement area, tasks and jobs that will need to be carried out will vary, my placement prior to the one above was in A&E and was largely different, so each placement is never the same, just as much as each day is never the same!


Top Tips

  • Have a notebook/pad that you can have to hand, this is really helpful for you to right down notes or anything new you have seen that you can later reflect on.
  • Buy yourself a small NEWS2 pocket guide to have to hand, you can buy these online and usually include ECG readings, the stool chart etc on them... I found it really helpful to have to refer to quickly on shift.
  • Always ask questions – no question is ever silly, and it is safer for you to know the answer rather than to think you know the answer.
  • Always ask if you can help or observe – use this opportunity to see and gain as much experience as possible.
  • Never feel a burden or that you are in the way, most of the time people are just happy to have the help and want to teach as they do so.. everyone was a student at some point.
  • Remember you are always being assessed, most of your assessment is done through observation, so bare this in mind when on shift.
  •  Always ask for support and be honest – if you are struggling or need to take some time, say so, this can be with your assessor or through the university


Being a final year student can be stressful and overwhelming, so regularly take some time for yourself and remember why you chose to become a nurse. Make friends along the way, have fun but most of all look after yourself. Nurses cannot care for others if we do not care for ourselves first.

Lauren O'Toole student apprentice nurse


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