The secret diary of a student nurse: ‘I’m asked to look after a patient who has been violent’ A student nurse says her ward is constantly understaffed, putting extra strain on nurses and healthcare assistants as they try to deal with difficult and distressed patients ‘My frantic mentor is doing three nurses’ jobs while hoping to avoid a drug error.’ The Guardian carried an interesting article recently on just how stressful a student nurse’s life can be. Sunday My week begins with a 12-hour shift. I arrive and the nurses’ station is worryingly empty. Not once have we been fully staffed in the past few weeks and the pressure of an impending inspection by the Care Quality Commission, the healthcare regulator, is growing. I start by helping patients with their breakfast, as the night staff did not have time. The food – porridge and bread – looks disgusting. No wonder they prefer to eat the chocolates and sweets their families bring. I am relied upon greatly to help with personal care needs, despite being a supernumerary. My frantic mentor is doing three nurses’ jobs while hoping to avoid a drug error. My first patient of the morning is a middle-aged obese woman who has been placed on my ward as there is no bed anywhere else in the hospital. She cannot move much. A healthcare assistant and I give her a bed bath and change her soiled pad. While we are trying to wash her, other patients are ringing their call bells: they need the commode, want a drink, need an extra pillow – you name it, they need it, and they want it now. We move our now clean and fresh patient on to her bariatric chair using a hoist. This chair has been rented specially from an outside company at an exorbitant price.


I spend the day with the diabetes nurse, following her on her ward rounds as she sees patients who are struggling to control their blood sugar levels. We meet the consultants to see patients who need amputations as a result of their poorly managed diabetes. This is a heart-wrenching experience. I witness the reaction of one patient as he is told the only way to prolong his life is to have his leg amputated above the knee. The surgeon seems unaffected but you can see how it suddenly dawns on patients that they could have avoided this. They ask if there’s anything they can do to stop it, but it’s too late. Wednesday It’s chaos when I arrive. A new patient has come in overnight. She has severe dementia and has been up all night going into other patients’ cupboards and collecting their things. There are two healthcare assistants running around putting the stuff back before people wake up. Handover is constantly interrupted by the shouting of other patients being disrupted by the new patient. After she is violent towards staff members I am assigned to look after her. Keeping her distracted is hard. She doesn’t want to be in hospital and keeps trying to leave. Friday A new patient has had a fall and is angry about being in hospital. She is an elderly woman with a body mass index in the obese range. She is mobile but struggles. She proves difficult to look after as she wants to care for herself. I spend some time getting to know her and find out she has been struggling at home; she cannot wash herself properly and it has started to show. She has sweat rashes and fungal infections . She is embarrassed but allows me to help her wash properly and apply cream. Most difficult decision: It was hard seeing the emotional effect on patients as they were told they were going to lose a limb. Most satisfying moment: Helping the elderly woman to wash properly and apply cream to areas she couldn’t reach.