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Laura McMahon BN Nursing (Adult), 2016

Staff Nurse in an Emergency Department

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Hi, I'm Laura McMahon and I studied Adult Nursing at the University of Southampton.

Values based lectures, healthcare professionals and wonderful patients have transformed me over the years into a nurse who now feels confident and comfortable communicating with and advocating for all of my patients.

What made you select the University of Southampton for your undergraduate study?

The University of Southampton has a good reputation , particularly for my chosen subject, and lots of course information on their website. The way the course was structured appealed to me and the wide range of settings for placements afforded by having so many acute hospitals and community services within the area made me think that I would gain a good variety of experiences, which I did. I also liked that the nursing selection day included a question and answer session for applicants with current students who appeared to be thoroughly enjoying their course.

What is Southampton like as a place to study?

Southampton is like a campus university; the library , lecture theatres, faculty building and food and sports venues are all close together, making it easy to maximise your productivity. Faculty members, the student union and university support staff are all helpful and there is ample opportunity to get involved with societies or student representation . The city itself has a modern shopping centre, plenty of cinemas and restaurants, a theatre as well as annual local food and music festivals. The surrounding towns and the New Forest , which are lovely places to relax, after submitting an assignment, are also easily accessible.

What did you enjoy about the course?

The diversity of the modules kept academic work interesting and I liked that assessments were not all essay based but varied between exams, presentations and projects. We often had speakers who were specialists in practice or through research and it was always a privilege to be taught by people with such huge amounts of knowledge and passion for their subject.

Were there any modules that you particularly enjoyed?

'Acute Care Needs' was an enjoyable module as mine as it allowed us to consider the wider holistic needs of patients in hospital as well as pathophysiology and common nursing interventions. My favourite module was the final year project as we were able to choose a subject that interested us and look at it from different angles, all with the goal of improving patient experience.

How useful did you find your clinical placements?

Placements were hugely useful both for relating your theoretical knowledge to clinical practice and developing as a holistic professional; working with patients in a range of environments, from within their home to an operating theatre, really helps you to appreciate and focus on their needs. My placements included wards of different specialities, a dialysis unit within a regional renal centre, the community, theatres and recovery. The variety of placements means that you can gauge your strengths and use your experiences to guide where you want to work in future.

Did you participate in any extra-curricular activities (such as clubs, societies) that provided skills that you have used since finishing your course?

I was a first aider with the university unit of St John Ambulance for two years which enabled me to get a taste of what pre-hospital care was like and to speak to clinicians who worked in hospitals but volunteered outside of them. I appreciate the situations pre-hospital staff can encounter which improves my empathy both for the professionals and the patient they are bringing into the emergency department.

Participating in some of the university’s entrepreneurial events, such as the Dynamo Challenge or the social enterprise competition, helped me develop confidence in teamwork, pitching ideas and speaking in front of groups, panels or crowds. That confidence in communicating can be useful when working within a busy emergency department and I hope that it will serve me well for roles I apply for in future.

What is your current profession?

I work as a Staff Nurse in the Emergency Department of a busy major Trauma Centre in the East Midlands.

How do you feel that your course prepared you for employment?

Nursing is very much a vocational degree where each module or placement is geared towards making you a successful nurse who has the theoretical knowledge, practical skills and attitude to support patients well.

In final year the faculty arrange an employability week where you can speak to potential employers, learn about available opportunities and have coaching on topics such as how to write your personal statement that will secure you the perfect first role. It is a confidence boosting week that calms an otherwise stormy sea of final year jitters!

Do you have any plans for your future career progression?

I am interested in improving patient experience, health economics and how healthcare is arranged so a career in guiding NHS strategy is a possibility. Another tempting option is to improve my skills within emergency and critical care, travel the world as a cruise ship, disaster relief or offshore nurse then lead a critical care outreach team at a hospital back home. There is such rich variety in the routes of progression available to nurses so I know that there are multiple career paths I could take.

What tips would you give to current students looking to start a career in your sector? What could they be doing now to make themselves more employable when they graduate?

Healthcare is a huge industry with the NHS constantly being mentioned in the news for all manner of reasons so I would recommend that students keep up to date with current affairs as you may well be asked about what is happening within the sector at interview. Take advantage of opportunities to work with specialists such as the acute pain or palliative care teams because it will enhance your knowledge, indicate to future employers that you are proactive and also allow you to spend time with people who are hugely passionate about their work.

What advice would you give to a student starting their undergraduate study at Southampton?

Take some time to map out what you can realistically achieve as starting university can feel like being pulled in ten directions at once and ending semester one burned out does not set you up well for what will be an exciting but ultimately exhausting placement.

Do make use of everything available to you such as the shared study spaces, great mentors and societies as they will enrich your time at university whilst making you a well-rounded, well-informed professional.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of how the empathy I didn’t previously know I had translates into how I interact with patients. When I started at Southampton I was terrified that I would fall apart on a ward as I had no practical knowledge, zero intuition, no real experience of “sick people” and interpersonal skills that were lacklustre at best. Values based lectures, healthcare professionals and wonderful patients have transformed me over the years into a nurse who now feels confident and comfortable communicating with and advocating for all of my patients.

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