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First day on the ward – a survival guide for nurses

Tagged In:  Nursing

What's the best advice if you're a newly qualified or a locum nurse joining a hospital ward for the first time? We asked experienced nurse Sally Judge to give us a few expert insights.

For any nurse, whether you're a novice or a veteran, that first day on a new ward can be a daunting prospect. However well prepared you think you are, there's always the chance that you'll have to deal with something outside your comfort zone.

Find out what you can from the team

"My number one tip to any locum nurse joining a new team is talk to your colleagues,"  says Sally Judge, a former A&E nurse at Ipswich Hospital, now working as a specialist community public health nurse for Suffolk County Council. She suggests taking a few minutes before your first shift to get to know your fellow team members and make them aware of your level of experience and skills. It's also a chance to familiarise yourself with the ward's emergency procedures.

Locums also need to be ready to show initiative and not take anything for granted, particularly when it comes to dealing with patients. "It may be as simple as making sure they know how to put on their gowns," comments Sally. "Ties at the back not front! It's surprising how many people get that wrong."

Understand the ward’s procedures


Different hospitals and types of wards may have different protocols and admin procedures. So it's also important for newbies to ask questions and make sure they're up to speed with what's expected of them. "Standard practice can vary," explains Sally. "On a surgical or geriatric ward there may be a requirement that patients are turned on a regular basis. However, on a medical ward this may not be necessary. In addition, the paperwork you need to complete, for example for admissions, can vary from ward to ward or hospital to hospital." 

Avoid abbreviations

While we're on the subject of paperwork, it's best to avoid abbreviations, unless you're sure they're universally understood. Sally shares a compelling example: "In gynaecology, IUD can stand for 'intrauterine device', otherwise known as a 'coil'.  But in some hospitals it's used as shorthand for 'intrauterine fetal death'. That's a confusion you definitely want to avoid.

Qualities of a good locum nurse

So what are the key qualities that Sally thinks make a good locum nurse? Apart from being communicative with colleagues and ready to ask if you're unsure of something, she thinks it's important to be friendly, a team player and willing to get stuck in right away. Many locum nurses face a steep learning curve. Therefore, effective time management and an ability to prioritise are also vital skills. 

In addition, Sally advocates giving yourself time to deal with difficult issues. Nursing is rewarding, but it can also be challenging at times. If you've been involved in an emergency, for example a cardiac arrest, it's a good idea to take a short 'time out' to process it and 'de-brief' yourself. Otherwise the experience could distract you from your work or impact on your personal life.

Having someone to offload to is also a big asset. "Again, it's really good to talk," concludes Sally. "As nurses, we've all been through similar situations and had similar feelings. You'll find your colleagues understand and that a brief chat with them can be very reassuring."

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