Reflection. A mirror into your very soul, or in the case of student nurses, a dreaded word that comes attached with a hefty word count and a massive graded essay. Sadly – for some – reflection doesn’t just end when we graduate. No, reflection is part and parcel of being a nurse and when we get that sought after pin is when reflection really kicks up a gear. Reflective essays are part of life now.
You’re not studying to be a surgeon, but trust me, you’ll be dissecting every thought and feeling in your reflective essay.
I won’t bore you to tears with the ins and outs of why reflection is important (purely because I stand a decent chance of plagiarising myself here) but it is. No one stands a chance of learning new skills unless they think about what could be done better and what needs to be thrown in the bin (figuratively speaking) So, say you’re a student nurse. Say you’ve been tasked with a 3,500-word reflective essay all about something that happened to you in placement. How the heck can you get it started?
Nursing student tips: Which model of reflection is best for my reflective essay?
Gibbs’, Rolfe’s, Driscolls’, Johns’, Kolb and Schon and carry on. Seriously there are a good handful of reflective frameworks that all work in their own ways, all have their pros and cons and all demand their own attention. Some are more about learning while you’re doing things, others are about sorting all the jigsaw puzzles once it’s already happened. Some allow free through to flow like a river made of glitter, others are more like a wander in the Crystal Maze. You need to find what works best for you. I personally love Johns. Why? All the others are general, anyone can use them to reflect from teacher to managers to accountants. Johns is adapted for healthcare and nurses in particular. It makes the job easy by its very design.
Choose a model, then outline all the steps you need to take. That’s the start. STICK TO THIS FRAMEWORK and ensure you keep your heading for your reflection.
Student nurse tips: What should I reflect on in my essay?
You’ll need to take a few pointers from your module leader here. Ours was specifically to revolve around a positive experience in placement. Nothing incriminating. Nothing that’ll leave you questioning whether you should even be alive, let alone a nurse in charge of people’s healthcare. So read the brief and have a think about a patient or two that stick out in your mind.
Create a mind map of: who they are,why they came to need your help (e.g. why they were in hospital, why they needed a community nurse visit), their previous medical history, any family or relatives you interacted with, and why the event sticks out in your mind. Did they say something or do something that helped or hindered your progress? Did treating them make you feel proud? Scared? Overwhelmed? If you can link a tangible feeling to the experience, then you’re on to a winner.
Remember, reflection will be getting all deep and personal about your feelings and beliefs, about why you think and feel that way and why you reacted as such. Ain’t no use writing about something you really have no connection to. Unless you’re a martyr of course.
Nursing student tips: Your reflective essay description a.k.a the critical event
When you start writing your description, it helps to follow a logical template. Plot out each point as a simple bullet list or another mind map. This will be your cue for when you start writing it out.
1. The patient
Introduce us to the main star. For the love of Pete never, ever, ever use their full name or anything that could identify them. Change their gender if you have to, and change their name completely. But start with their age range, their reason for needing care, previous medical history and any other little snippets that give us, the reader, some clue as to what’s going on.
2. The context
Now, start with where you were placed (again, no names), the setting (e.g. community, small local hospital, large regional hospital) and what happened upon handover. What were you told about this person before you even met them? Had you met them before? That’s ok, but what’s changed since? Give the reader insight into how you fit into this story.
3. The event
You might only be talking about giving your first successful IM, or helping someone off the loo. So jump right to that. ‘After completing my nursing tasks for the day, Patient June pressed her call buzzer…’ and take it from there. You don’t need to get bogged down into what you had on your fifteen-minute break or how the consultant lost a set of notes and sent you scrambling to find them. Focus only on the experience, and only on what happened there and then.
The feelings part comes in the main body of reflection, so try and keep these to a minimum within the actual description itself. If course, if you felt apprehensive about assisting as a scrubs nurse for the afternoon make a brief note in your description, but keep the main crux of your emotional reaction for the reflective cues later. It’s ok to say ‘I helped so-and-so when they fell’ and leave feelings out, as long as you refer to them in the reflective process below.
End your description in a neat way. Did you see them again? Did they return home? Did they thank you for helping them? Was the family pleased? A short little sentence just to end the experience nicely for the reader.
Student nurse tips: Getting all emoshe with reflection
Now, this is where it gets very generic because it all depends on which framework you’re using. But as a good rule:
- Read back through your description
- Note down any feeling, anything you can draw on that will help you analyse why you did what you did.
- Note down anything that ma have influenced that feeling.
Example: I helped Patient May to see the importance of drinking more water than she had been to help her blood pressure. This made me feel proud, experienced, and competent.
Now, write WHY you felt that. I felt proud because I gave information in a simple and clear way
I felt proud because I gave information in a simple and clear way, information I had learnt from my bioscience lectures. I felt experienced because I knew I could do it again.
I felt competent because my mentor allowed me to help the lady without supervision.
Whatever. Talk about why you felt that way. For point three, acknowledge the effects others have on your feelings.
I felt scared, but my mentor reassured me which helped me feel a little more courageous. I felt confident, but my patient was nervous about her injection, which made me feel like I wanted to reassure her. Etc.
Student nurse tips: Learning and moving on, ending your reflective essay neatly
Ok, so you’ve talked about the ethics of care, and the importance of the 6Cs. You’ve applied these to your experience, and you know why you felt like you did. You’ve explored the influence other people had on you that led you to act in familiar ways, and new ways. You’ve followed your reflective pathway and now need to figure out how you’ve learnt from the whole shebang.
This is up to you. But if you felt proud, then identify how you could do better next time. How will you improve yourself to help other people? How will you adapt to get a better placement grade? How will your experience help you be a better team player? This is time to focus on the good stuff, and also the stuff that needs a little bit of work. Don’t be too dramatic here, but also don’t say you haven’t learnt anything and you’ll do the same thing next time.
That’s completely missing the point.
So that’s a super quick way to structure your reflective essay. Break it down into bite-sized chunks. Choose the pathway that works for you, and don’t be afraid to change to another if you can’t quite make it stick. If you want something easy to follow, use Gibbs’ or Johns. Create a picture of your patient. Create a simple breakdown of the description. Read through your description and note down your feelings. Note down why you felt that way, what and who influenced you thinking that way.
Before you know it you’ll have worked through all your steps one-by-one. Now, that wasn’t too hard, was it?
TAGSnursing, student nurse
Clinical rotations are a critical component of your nursing education. Your nursing clinical experience presents the opportunity to work with real patients, experience work environments you may want to pursue once you have earned your Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and learn how you will work with fellow nurses, physicians, and other members of the health care team.
It may sound intimidating, and maybe even frightening, but your clinical experience offers you a learning opportunity to build the foundation of your nursing education. Today’s guest blogger shares her clinical experience as a nursing student and how it prepared her for her life as a registered nurse and how it helped her serve as a preceptor to future generations of registered nurses.
My Nursing Clinical Experience
The clinical experience is often times the cornerstone of the nursing student’s career.
I had a year of coursework before I began my clinical experiences. And I could. Not. Wait. I was overly enthusiastic—I had my (overly priced) starch white uniform pressed, my brand new pair of white sneakers ready to go, my trusty, never-been-used plastic mannequin named “Bob” in the nursing lab, and my stethoscope. I was ready to go.
My Very First Clinical Experience
My first clinical experience was at an extended care facility for my Adult/Geriatric Nursing class. I was there at 6:30 sharp—a feat for me even then, as I’m chronically on “Becky Time,” which is a beautiful experience of always being five to ten minutes late everywhere I go. I didn’t know anyone, as I had recently transferred into the program from a different city, and to say that I was nervous would be an understatement.
The first few days at clinicals were, in my mind, fun. Taking blood pressures, charting on my paper care plan maps; it was great.
However, a lot of my classmates did not share in my excitement. Was it 12 hours of mundane learning? Well, truthfully, yes. The nurses didn’t exactly treat us as “nurses in the making” so much as “nurses’ helpers.” We gave a lot of baths, took a lot of blood pressures, and did a lot of patient turns. I enjoyed my time, but years later, this single experience has taught me how to treat my nursing students.
I tried to go into each clinical experiences with an open mind, despite any reservations I had on the branch of nursing I was studying. The coolest, scariest, most exciting part was absolutely my psychiatric nursing clinicals.
Overall it was fascinating. I loved every minute of it.
I went to a state psychiatric hospital, where I did clinicals on a floor where people were criminally declared insane, and most had been convicted of heinous crimes. However, this clinical experience, although scary (please note, I was incredibly safe), I learned so much. I learned how you can have compassion for someone who has done some things you only read about because they were in a deep state of psychosis. I was able to interview patients who had different life factors that contributed to their mental health. Overall it was fascinating. I loved every minute of it.
Using My Clinical Experience to Get a Job
My very first job as a registered nurse stemmed from a nursing clinical experience, actually.
I was in my final clinical—critical care. It was in a busy ICU, very fast passed. The nurses were kind, thoughtful, and wanted us to be there so they can teach us.
On my first day, a patient coded. Watching the staff come together in an effort to save the patient was truly a pivotal moment in my nursing career. On our lunch break that very afternoon, I went to human resources. I was interviewed for a student nursing position a few days later, and a week after that, I was offered a job on the critical care unit that I had witnessed the first code.
It was the blessing of a lifetime; I learned so much that year, and it helped me be a better student. To this day I tell student nurses to try and get a job, doing anything, in a setting that interests you. My experience also led to my first job: As soon as I graduated and passed my boards, I segued into my first job in that exact same unit.
Today I Work as a Preceptor
I am now in a position where I have student nurses. Several times a week you see the crisp white uniforms, all matching, smiling, eager faces, and always, always a clipboard.
I mostly try to teach the students critical thinking skills. I ask a lot of questions—sorry students, yes, I am that preceptor. But what I am really trying to teach my student nurses is the why of how we understood, or figured out, a specific problem. It’s the foundation of critical skill set. And it’s the role of a preceptor.
Please note: I don’t like to call you a nursing student. You are practicing and learning the art of nursing. A degree and license isn’t what makes a good nurse, it just makes a legal nurse. A real nurse is someone who cares for the sick with compassion and kindness, and knowledge behind all of that.
Clinicals are an exciting time in nursing school. It gives one the ability to experience lots of different branches of nursing. I suggest you be open and excited to be there and learn. Let your preceptor know that you’re there to learn and you’re excited to be there.
Nurses are teachers by nature; we love to teach! Be excited, and ask a lot of questions. Above all, treat your patients as you would if you were already their nurse…because a good nurse starts with kindness and goodness.
Your nursing clinical experiences are a rewarding aspect of your nursing education that teaches you so much more than the details of being a nurse. At Utica College, you will complete clinicals at top health care facilities, allowing you to build your knowledge-base and create your professional network in highly recognized facilities.
If you are ready to learn more about completing your clinicals or the online learning and simulation lab components of the Accelerated BSN program at Utica College, speak to an advisor today.