Reflection: on being both a learner and a critical observer

10 May 2017

TRISTIN SLATER, a third year student nurse at the University of Auckland, reflects on trying to administer a tetanus injection to an attack victim.


tristin slater
Tristin Slater

She had been stabbed. By her sister. Three times. But it wasn’t until days later when I was trying to sleep after a late shift, that this fact finally settled into my consciousness enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Amanda (pseudonym) was only 14 years old when she came into my care. Although it wasn’t really my care but the care of the nurse I was following around for the day, like a shadow. I was only a small and helpless nursing student, tripping over my feet trying to keep up with the busyness of a fully qualified and competent registered nurse. At least that’s how she saw me. I saw myself as someone who was well educated, with practical skills to boot. Perhaps a bit shell-shocked and out of my comfort zone, but otherwise completely capable.

Because of her injuries, Amanda needed a tetanus injection, an idea she strongly opposed. As I approached her, needle in hand, she winced, then cried, screamed, swore and pushed me away. It was at that point that my nurse took command of the situation. She took the needle from my hand, administered the injection and briskly left the room, apologising for interrupting my learning experience.

Through my nursing career, I will remember this event. Not because of what I watched the nurse do, but because of what I did not do.

My knowledge and capabilities made me responsible for my own inaction.

On reflection I wonder, faced with this situation again, would I have done anything differently? Would I have spoken up? Would I follow the principles of patient-centred care we are taught?

In a hospital environment, people perceive students in very different ways. Perhaps the most common image is a young, immature student, inexperienced and hesitant.

However, my time as a student nurse has taught me something that others may find surprising: we are valuable.

As students, we learn best practice, research key topics, study pathophysiology, familiarise ourselves with legislation and codes and perhaps most importantly, we are a fresh set of eyes.

However, we also have a responsibility to speak up, ask questions, be confident and to critically analyse our nursing practice and that of the registered nurses who are our role models.
Throughout my nursing degree, I am learning to find the balance between being a learner and a critic of professional practice.

*Tristin Slater's full critical reflection can be read here 

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