It's vitally important for students to apply theoretical knowledge gained in the classroom to patients or clients within a practice-based setting.
That’s why most of our courses offer an equal split between placement and class-based study.
To give you an insight into what it's really like, read Claire’s lowdown on her placement experience.

 Claire's story: A Mental Health Nursing student on placement

I think the thing that struck me the most during my placement experiences is just how varied each day and each different placement can be! It may sound like a cliché, but there really are no two days the same in mental health nursing. But really, that is one of the reasons that I love it!

A ‘typical’ long day shift on an inpatient placement will start at 7am and you will be on shift until 8pm. This means it involves getting up at an hour that seems like the middle of the night (between 5am and 5.30am for me) to get dressed into your uniform and prepare your bag and pockets with all of the many things that you may need during the day. I usually aim to arrive 15 minutes before the start of shift to allow time to get into the unit and make a cup of coffee and speak with my mentor and those I will be on shift with.

The shift will begin with a handover from the shift before detailing information about all of the service users on the unit and any tasks that need completing for the day. At 7.30am, the night staff leave and you begin the day. As I said, no two days will be the same, but there will almost always be medication rounds to complete and you will work with your mentor to ensure that you have a good understanding of what medication you are administering, the correct dosages and the potential side effects. There may be a multi-disciplinary team meeting where you may be expected to present nursing feedback on some of the service users and to advocate for them in their care plan. You will have to get used to answering and making phone calls and being confident in writing notes and making referrals.

As a student, I have found that I learnt so much from simply talking to the service users and making myself available to them, whether that be to chat about their medication, the voices that they may be experiencing, or to play a game of pool, table football or scrabble. Time will be spent carrying out therapeutic observations, assessing a Person’s risk for their section 17 leave, care planning with a service user or going along on escorts to the local area (although, as a student, never alone).

Getting your head around all of the legal aspects of mental health nursing can seem massively daunting in the beginning, with terms like section 2, section 3, AMPH, SOAD, IMHA, section 17, section 5(4), section 132 rights, tribunal and many more being encountered daily. The thing to remember is that you will quickly pick information up and your mentor will be there to help you if you aren’t sure – the important thing is to remember that you are there to learn, so ASK QUESTIONS!

Sometimes things can seem quite strange on placement, especially on the inpatient units. I have found that talking about things with my mentor really helps and also actively reflecting on incidents when I get home from placement at the end of the day. Things that happen on placement, initially can seem so strange but quickly become ‘normal’.

A long day shift is 13 hours long with a 45 minute break. Some units split this into 2 shorter breaks whilst others give one longer break. I found the idea of this really daunting as I was not used to such a long day but I found that the time really does go quickly as you will be so busy. The most important thing for me has been comfortable shoes as that is what makes the difference between feeling good at the end of the 13 hours or feeling uncomfortable and in pain!

It will seem daunting, but soon enough you will be presenting the handover to the oncoming shift with confidence and be leaving a shift feeling excited and prepared for the next one.