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How did you learn to be a nurse?

For Helen Lewis, enrolling on a university course pertinent to her chosen path in the field of primary care nursing is a prospect both exhilarating and challenging ...

We all know that when we embarked on our nursing careers, regardless of how long ago that was, getting to the end of the course and gaining our qualification was but the start of our learning. Some learning curves were but a mere slope, while others are so steep you require a ladder and a fair degree of determination to get over them!

The surprising and, to some extent puzzling, thing is that when I was studying initially for my nursing degree, my group of friends and I would muse over the prospect of no longer having to study once qualified and life would take on a more relaxed stance! Huh!! How shortsighted was that!! But it is an idea that many students have.

On the day that I enrolled for my course, the usual thing happened – you go in to be registered and have your photo done, hoping to God that the hair and makeup that had been on for some hours by then had not slipped down to my chin and my hair did not look like something that had landed on my head and which did not have any right to be there.

Clutching my slip notifying staff that I had enrolled upstairs and was therefore entitled to have my photograph done in the first place, I made my way through hoards of other people waiting to do the same. The only thing that set us apart as students was the fact that I had gone straight from work and was still wearing my uniform - apart from that we were all in the same boat.

So here I am sitting and having my photo ID printed and out pops a card (initial thoughts – photo is not bad) marking the start of a year of study and the fact that I am now officially a student at the university.

I make my way back through the waiting people and head off to see the course leader. In doing so I pass two students discussing the amount of work they are expecting to do for one essay and how on earth they are supposed to do that when they are also on placement.

One of the girls then utters those very familiar words, "I can't wait to qualify, at least I won't have to do any more studying and I can just get on with being a nurse". Her friend agrees that once they are qualified they can relax!! I have a feeling that the steepest of all learning curves is yet to come for our budding nurses.

Nursing is about lifelong learning, and that may include learning about yourself as an individual first, and then learning about the role we undertake, regardless of the specialty we practise in.

One thing is for sure; we learn to be nurses when we are students and then we learn to nurse when we qualify - it is a little like learning to drive a car, where an individual learns to pass their test and then they learn to drive. Everything that we do as nurses is shaped by past events - good and bad - by the patients whom we care for and by the people we meet.

To a greater extent we are the keepers of our own destiny, and not everyone wants to study – although I have yet to meet such a nurse. On the other hand we should not be made to feel that we have to sign up for endless courses without some period of consolidation and - dare I say it - relaxation in between.

For all of us enrolled in part-time or full-time student status we can hope for two things: first, that we come out the other side with our sense of humour (and hair) intact; and second, a pay rise! Take heart, for there is light at the end of the tunnel – all we can hope for is that it is not a train!