Let us dive into a topic that is as real as it gets: the mental stress we face during hospital placements.

We all know the drill: trying to understand the new clinical environment, and just when you think you have figured it out, new learning methods swoop in. It’s like learning to ride a bike on a tightrope.

Placements provide students with fantastic learning opportunities, but they can also raise the standard of challenge over what is sustainable. Whenever placements run effectively, they can improve students’ learning and future readiness. When they go poorly, however, they may undermine students’ perseverance, self-worth, and overall mental health.

“Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness”

So, how can we protect our mental health and achieve our learning objectives in the whirlwind of placements? Let us unpack this together.

Imagine this: two weeks into your six-week placement, you are in the thick of placement, trying to decipher the ward’s culture, and suddenly, your assessor informs you that your episode of care will have to be by a new learning method. It’s like adding hot sauce to a spicy dish. These changes can dial up the stress, turning our placement period into a rollercoaster ride.

The absence of adequate housing, transport expenses (from and to the clinical site), and an unfavourable impression of the clinical setting to the placement contribute to the chaos. Enough to make even the bravest among us feel like we are doing acrobatics without a safety net. So, let us discuss ways to protect our mental health.

One valuable protective mechanism to me during placement is creating systems that build resilience. Your clinical placement might feel like a solo mission, but guess what? It is a team sport. I have found strength in connecting with my fellow nursing students. I was reflecting on stories, swapping learning tips, and letting off steam together. There is strength in numbers.

Another is your organisational skills – they are your secret weapon. From work schedules to notes, having a system will keep you from drowning. Trust me, even colour coding might be your new best friend.

The learning curve during a placement can be steeper than a rollercoaster drop, and that is perfectly fine. You are not supposed to be perfect from the get-go. Treat each day as a new chapter, and cut yourself some slack. You’re doing awesome. Having this mindset helps me improve my self-worth. Studies show that students will experience an improvement in their mental health as long as they believe positively in themselves.

In the whirlwind, find moments to breathe. Mindfulness is like a mini vacation for your brain. A quick meditation or a few deep breaths can calm chaos. Mindfulness goes hand in hand with communication. We must establish communication methods with our supervisor from the onset of placement. It is important because we communicate differently and need some adjustments sometimes. So, with communication methods set beforehand, it is easier to let others know when we need these mindfulness breaks.

Finally, If the stress gets too much, don’t hesitate to call in reinforcements. Chat with your mentor, a tutor, or anyone you trust. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Embrace the challenges, but also embrace the strategies that keep your mental health on point.

Chioma Vivian Ezunu is a third-year mental health nursing student at the University of Northampton and 2023-24 Nursing Times student editor

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