Hosting student nurses - Peter Irving supervises student nurses in a regional general practice

By Primary Times Chief Writer Melanie Irwin

Source: APNA Primary Times Summer 2022-23 (Volume 22, Issue 2)

 


Peter Irving is a primary health care (PHC) nurse with several decades of experience in a variety of health-care roles. ‘I’ve worked in accident and emergency, theatre, palliative care, Aboriginal Health and aged care. I’ve been a director of nursing. I’ve written a research paper and have been involved in other research projects. And now I’m in general practice,’ he says. ‘I enjoy general practice nursing for the lifestyle, and because I get to mentor student nurses. At this point in my career, I feel that it’s time for me to pass the knowledge forward.’ 

Peter works at the Hamilton Family Practice in Hamilton, a large regional town in south-western Victoria. The APNA Student Nurse Placement Program (SNPP) placed three student nurses with the practice during 2022, with Peter in the role of supervisor. Students usually spend 2 to 4 weeks at the clinic, and one stayed for 2 months as part of her re-entry training. 

Peter has a wealth of knowledge to share with students and he can provide advice on what to expect when they’ve completed their studies. ‘Working in general practice is one of the most diverse roles; you get to do such a range of activities. And students on placement here can get more hands-on experience than they would in a surgical ward. I get them to assist the doctors with certain procedures. In a theatre, they’d just be standing back and watching.’ 

Even though hosting a student takes up a bit more of Peter’s time, he says it’s definitely worth the effort because it’s so useful to have another pair of hands on the job. Once a student has been on placement for a couple of weeks, and they’ve learnt to carry out various tasks, he can stand back and supervise them as they do the work. Some of these tasks include motor sports medicals and other workplace medicals, wound care and assisting GPs with minor procedures. Each workplace medical takes about an hour and Peter trains the student nurses, who gradually do more of the task, asking questions as they go. Eventually the students can do a full medical without having to ask Peter any questions. ‘That’s really rewarding for them!’ he says. 

Peter’s role also involves writing chronic disease management plans for many patients. These plans describe the patient’s healthcare needs and the treatment and services they require. Patients can be referred to other health-care providers, such as physiotherapists, podiatrists and chiropractors. ‘I educate the student nurses to write these plans and usually by the end of their placement, they’re able to write a full plan without any prompting from me.’ 

Peter teaches the student nurses to be resourceful. ‘In PHC nursing, you need to know how to obtain the relevant information and make decisions, without always relying on colleagues and supervisors’, he explains. ‘This is what I try to convey to the students. I show them where to find the information they need when there’s no one to ask. I also encourage self-evaluation. For example, after a patient has left, I ask them, “How do you think that went?”, “What do you think you could have done better?”, and “What do you think you do really well?”. This kind of critical and analytical thinking helps them to form good habits. They’re important skills for learning to work autonomously as a PHC nurse.’ 

‘Nurses get to do such a range of activities in general practice. Students on placement here can get more hands-on experience than they would in a surgical ward.’ 

The variety of tasks in PHC nursing can make it quite mentally demanding and Peter works hard to set a good example for students: ‘Sometimes you have to think right outside the square. It’s important that patients have the right information so that they can manage their own health care. We need to have strong communication skills to make sure patients have what they need.’  

Even though supervising involves some extra work for Peter when the students first arrive, he says the SNPP benefits the practice and the profession, as it encourages nursing students to work in PHC. ‘The students really enjoy their time here with us. We make efforts to welcome them into the Hamilton community. We share meals and take them sight-seeing.’ 

‘When I trained to become a nurse, the system was authoritarian, hierarchical and quite cruel! If you questioned your superiors, you were punished. I’m doing this for a healthy and sustainable nursing profession. It’s very satisfying to watch these student nurses acquire new skills and to see their confidence grow. So many nurses in general practice are over the age of 50 and they’ve got all this knowledge that they really should pass on. The SNPP gives them the opportunity to share their experience of nursing with the next generation.’ 

APNA Founder and Nurse Ambassador Sam Moses reflects on the valuable experiences that student nurses can obtain by doing their placements in regional, rural or remote PHC settings: ‘A rural placement is an opportunity for personal and professional growth for the student’, she says. ‘Rural communities are a world away from metropolitan clinical placements, and it’s important that students experience both. In a rural placement, students get to experience the difficulties faced by these communities, such as their limited access to services. And the scope of practice of rural nurse supervisors is very broad.’ 

A change of scenery can also be beneficial for nursing students. ‘Students get to see another part of this beautiful country,’ Sam says, ‘and regional communities tend to embrace them with warm country, inclusive hospitality. I love hearing from students about their stories and adventures on placement – it is their reward for giving it a go. So, grab your nursing student buddy and head rural – “You'll never never know, if you never never go!”’ 

APNA is looking for additional PHC workplaces to host students as part of the Student Nurse Placement Program. To learn more, go to Information for Workplaces and Supervisors.

The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.


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