Placement is emotional

Written by Sam Kitchen

First years are due to go out on their first placement next week. It’s a very exciting time, and also understandable to be quite nervous!

We can tend to get bogged down in worrying we don’t know clinical skills, or focus on our lack of experience and how we don’t want to be a burden to staff. It’s extremely important to remember that you are there to learn – not to know everything! You are supernumerary, which means you do not count as a member of staff. You are there first and foremost to learn, and this is the priority.

However, with all the focus on clinical skills and what we can do or what we can’t do, we might forget to take a moment to think about how we feel. Many of us who chose to pursue a career in nursing because we were inspired by an event in our lives. Regardless of whether we’ve had 40+ years of experience in healthcare or are a complete newbie, we’ve all had life experiences which have shaped us to be who we are, professionally and personally. All of these experiences contribute to how we will feel about healthcare, whether it’s hospitals, community or another setting.

 Some of us have experienced losing people we love, witnessed the change in our grandparents because of dementia, experienced abuse, lived in poverty or experienced many of the things we may see on placement first hand. We’ve all had some kind of trauma.

Before you start your first placement, I really hope you to take time to think about what you might do if emotions or triggers come up for you personally, and how you might handle it before you start. Know who you can talk to, where you can get help, where you can advise your fellow student nurses to get help if they need it. Also if you’re a member of a union such as RCN and UNISON, get familiar with the support they can provide. Also have a think about your own boundaries and where your priorities to spend your energy are.

Placement is tough. It’s not just being on your feet, it’s more than that. It’s caring. It’s learning about a new environment and the healthcare system of which ourselves and our loved ones depend on. You may need more time to rest and reflect between shifts than you anticipated. You may not have the energy to maintain your usual cleaning standards, to do paid work, to play with the kids. You may want to sit and cry.

Placement may empower you, bringing a force of energy which can’t be reckoned with. Not everyone will be exhausted. But if you are, give yourself a break. Emotional exhaustion is real.

If you struggle, reach out to your peers. Reach out to your personal supervisor. Reach out to your community, Hull University Nursing Society.

We have some good resources that may help with this here: Mental Health drop-in with Jacquie White – Hull University Nursing Society (

If you need any support with your mental health, please reach out to the university. They have dedicated staff and teams there to support you: Mental health | University of Hull

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