Are Australian Nursing Graduates In Over Their Heads?

Nursing students in Australia have to undergo extensive training and practical experience to become registered nurses. Many Australian nursing graduates are feeling overwhelmed and unprepared, even after completing their clinical placements. Turnover rates of graduate nurses are incredibly high during their few years in-practice, and vacancy rates of nurses are well beyond what they should be at around 7.5% in Australia. Why is this so, and how do we reduce the strain on graduate nurses, moving forward?

How Many Hours Of Placement?

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Accreditation Council (ANMAC) mandates that nursing students must complete a minimum of 800 hours of clinical placement before they can graduate as a registered nurse. This requirement means that nursing students have to spend a significant amount of time in healthcare settings, working under the supervision of qualified nurses. Placements tend to begin in the first year of study and carry throughout the entire duration of a nursing student’s course.

What Do Student Nurses Do On Clinical Placement?

The role of a nursing student on clinical placement is to observe and participate in patient care, learn about different medical procedures, and understand the role of nurses in patient care. During their placement, students are assigned a preceptor or a clinical supervisor who guides them through the practical experience.

What is a Preceptor?

A preceptor is a registered nurse who is responsible for guiding and mentoring nursing students during their clinical placement. Preceptors are responsible for assessing the student’s performance and providing support and feedback on areas that need improvement. They play a crucial role in helping nursing students transition from the classroom to the clinical setting and prepare them for their role as registered nurses. Providing adequate support and resources for future graduates is a major challenge. One possible solution is to provide more comprehensive preceptor training, to ensure that preceptors have the necessary skills and knowledge to mentor and support nursing students effectively.

Nursing Learning Objectives

Clinical placement is designed to help nursing students achieve specific learning objectives. These objectives may include developing clinical skills, enhancing communication and teamwork skills, and learning about patient-centred care. The learning objectives are based on the nursing curriculum and are designed to ensure that students have the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to provide safe and effective patient care.

However, many nursing students are struggling to meet the learning objectives and feel unprepared for their role as registered nurses. A common reason for this is a lack of variation in placements.

Nursing Placements Are Sometimes Repetitive

The general intention of universities is to provide varied placement opportunities for each student, usually with proximity to the student’s home also in mind. Unfortunately, students don’t always get the variation in placements that they need to feel confident in the future as graduate nurses. For example, imagine walking into a scenario as a graduate where a child stops breathing, but you’ve only ever worked with older patients. What about a graduate that has only completed surgery placements being thrust into a busy emergency department? You can start to see from this why some graduates soon choose a different field.

Finding a university that will work hard with its students to ensure access to a good mix of placements promotes the growth of those students into graduates that are confident, competent, and less stressed. That leads to less graduates leaving the profession early!

Issues With Placement Staff

The pressure to perform and meet the expectations of the preceptor and nursing staff can really be overwhelming. Students often feel like they are in over their heads and struggle to keep up with the demands of clinical placement. It’s also not uncommon for students to come across work cultures that aren’t the greatest during their placements. The field of nursing is highly stressful, and to add to that, often understaffed. This can lead to a culture of bullying, due to burned out registered nurses expecting (and in many cases needing) more from the placement students than they can provide. It’s a bit of a cyclical issue, because the more students and graduates that drop out of nursing, the higher the vacancies in the field become. This leads to further pressure on the registered nurses in the field, leading to worse company culture and…well you see where we’re going here.

Reasons for Struggles

There are several reasons why Australian nursing graduates may be struggling to meet the demands of clinical placement. Firstly, there’s the shortage of qualified nurses in Australia, which means that nursing students are often thrown into the deep end and expected to take on more responsibilities than they are prepared for.

Secondly, the nursing curriculum may not be adequately preparing students for the demands of clinical placement. The curriculum may be too focused on theory and may not provide enough practical experience to prepare students for the realities of nursing.

Thirdly, nursing students may not be receiving adequate support and guidance from their preceptors. Preceptors are often busy with their own workload and may not have the time or resources to provide adequate support to students.

Could More Simulations Help?

Resources such as simulations and practice labs can help nursing students manage the stress and demands of clinical placement and support their mental health and wellbeing. Having access to more practical work, in preparation for placement, allows students to gain confidence in hands-on areas of the field before they are thrown into the deep end with real-world situations on placement. This makes for better learning overall.

Many Australian nursing graduates are feeling overwhelmed and unprepared after completing their clinical placements. The demands of clinical placement, coupled with the shortage of qualified nurses and inadequate support and guidance from preceptors, are contributing factors to the struggles that nursing students face. This leads to nursing graduates that leave the profession to pursue other careers. Providing better support and learning opportunities to nursing students reduces the risk of graduate dropout.

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