Reflections of a Newly Qualified Mental Health Nurse

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By Joanne Ajiboye, Staff Nurse at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust
Having studied Psychology at A-level and BSc, Joanne trained as a mental health nurse at Middlesex University and currently works for one of our partner trusts. Joanne has just completed her preceptorship and has kindly shared her experiences, as well as some key tips and messages for soon to be newly qualified nurses and fellow preceptees.


1. Tell us a bit about yourself

My interest in mental health stems mostly from having studied Psychology at A-Level and for my BSc. I wanted to become a mental health nurse because I have always wanted to help people. I am a good communicator and felt that mental health nursing was suitable to my caring attitude.

My hobbies include travelling, as I love exploring new places, especially the local cuisine. There are good deals especially with low-cost airlines, which make the occasional getaway a lot more affordable. I also love singing and dancing though this is more limited to family gatherings and the occasional night out with friends.

2. What are your reflections and lessons learned from the preceptorship period?

My preceptorship period appeared to go by quickly. I adjusted well to the team and found that my positive attitude helped. One of my main challenges was managing junior staff but who were older than me. I realised that as the nurse in charge I had to be confident in my own decision-making and clinical judgment. I enjoy working with my colleagues and they now value my contribution, I am not just seen as ‘the inexperienced newly qualified nurse’.  I work in the Trust that I trained in so I got to know and build links with a lot of people from senior management to domestic staff across many services.  Having good communication amongst your team really strengthens your work and it makes it easier to deal with challenging situations more effectively.

Before my preceptorship began I thought I would still have to have a nurse double-checking everything I did and felt like I had to continue proving I am worthy of being a qualified nurse. But in reality, the sessions with my preceptor were a good space to talk about my challenges and for him to provide additional support. My preceptor allowed me space to grow in confidence with my clinical skills independent of him but was always available if I needed further support. The rest of the team were equally supportive and having regular training sessions with the other newly qualified nurses was such a valuable experience.  We shared our experiences throughout the 6 months period until towards the 12 months of our first year as a qualified nurse. We were no longer baby nurses, we are nurses with responsibility and PINs to our names.

3. What are your reflections on the achievements and challenges faced whilst you were a student nurse? 

Meeting fellow student nurses, the staff at placements and discovering my own found strengths through going to different placements and meeting people in various settings (community and in-patient) was most memorable.  My biggest achievement was finishing my dissertation while on my sign-off (final) placement, which was a male PICU ward. This was daunting as I felt I had to cement all my 3 years of learning on the ward and on my days I was engrossed in all aspects of perinatal care, which was my dissertation topic, but I completed both successfully.

One of the biggest challenges I had was juggling my family life with my studies but I found that the placement staff understood when I had unavoidable childcare difficulties. Studying was really challenging as a Mum.  I had to juggle school runs with early morning handovers and with the wide variety and location of placements, this was really tough. Thankfully I have a very supportive partner who eased the pressure and I was always keen to let my placement know if I was struggling. As a student, childcare was expensive and it was difficult to work but mentors in most teams were also really helpful and understanding. I had to have a flexible attitude to my learning and manage my time effectively. At times I would have to finish off the bedtime routines with the children and then work on my academic work after the kids were asleep when I had quiet time to gather my thoughts and ideas.


4. Do you have any tips or advice for student nurses?

  • Remember to look after yourself first (physically and mentally)
    Yoga is great for a mix of physical and mental meditation. Good gym classes like spinning or a high-intensity class are helpful in easing the strain of having difficult restraints, and also help you feel good about the fitness of your body.
  • Develop good eating habits because the wards/offices can be filled with sugary treats
    Wards/offices can be filled with sugary treats.  Remember to limit sugar and salt to the daily-recommended intake, despite the temptation to eat something for a quick energy boost. Keep hydrated and try to have your 5 a day portions of fruit and veg. You will have more energy to deal with challenging situations at work and will feel generally more fit within yourself.
  • Mindfulness can be a great help
    I found that Mindfulness really helped me. I discovered this when it was practised at one of my community placements for 10 minutes every day.  I use an app called Calm, it’s free and has different sessions, which range from guided meditation for anxiety and insomnia. My favourite feature is
    ‘The Daily Calm’. Its 10 minutes and ranges every day which I find very helpful, especially after shifts that leave you feeling emotionally strained.
  • Keep motivated
    Do stay motivated despite the challenges of university assignments and work placements. Let your mentors and lecturers know if you are struggling. Remember life doesn’t stop because you are studying.
  • Don’t sell your textbooks because you never stop learning
    Try and learn about other topics that are not fully covered in the course that you are interested in, for example talking therapies. Don’t assume only Psychologists can attend related short courses.  In mental health nursing, you experience working with clients in various ways. Plus it will enhance your continued professional development and sets a good standard of learning for the future.
  • Build your confidence in using digital tools
    You can download apps such a the BNF, which lists medication in alphabetical order. It is easy to access and use if you need to quickly search for a particular medication. There is also a NICE guidelines app which is very useful for finding out evidence-based information and lines of treatment for service users. Use this to challenge practice you see on the ward as you are part of MDT and your suggestion could improve patient care.
  • Don’t forget to use social media for learning
    Follow organisations like Mental Elf and My Care Academy on Twitter for latest updates & research on mental health. Attend events you might see on Facebook, Eventbrite or LinkedIn. Having attended conferences in the past has exposed me to people I wouldn’t normally liaise with, including the President of the RCN or the Head of Nursing at a different university. This initially seems daunting but people are always keen to give advice to student and newly qualified nurses if you seem keen and eager enough. This confidence goes a long way when you joining new teams as well as in your personal life.
  • Your voice counts
    Remember you are a valuable asset to the team as a student nurse and don’t be wary of voicing your opinion or be intimidated by more senior nurses
    (they were once students too).
  • Enjoy the journey
    In the beginning, it may seem like there is a long way to go but the time does go quickly!

Final thoughts for those about to qualify?

Always insist on your monthly supervision as this allows you to offload any professional or clinical concerns. Ensure you have specific meeting time allocated with your supervisor and agree a time and date in advance at the beginning of the month.

No one expects you to be the perfect nurse and you can’t look after others if you are struggling. There will be mistakes along the way but be honest if you need further support. Stay in contact with your fellow preceptorship colleagues. They know how you feel and are a good source to talk to with people who understand the nature of the work we do, they’ll be a valuable support for you and vice versa.


Comment below

What tips would you give student or newly qualified nurses?

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