Prognosis: empowered, enthusiastic, and exhausted

Is it possible to have the “college experience” with societies while doing a Health Science subject?

For the majority of the student body in Trinity, the memory of squeezing through a crowd at Front Arch to be greeted with a multitude of coloured tents and amiable faces at every corner of the cobbled square is one that’s difficult to forget. One hour in, students would have signed up to at least ten societies, drawn by the tempting lure of free food, trips away, and an unconditional promise of “the craic”. The oblivious nature of our enthusiasm, however, soon fades away by second semester, as we realised what our chosen courses had expeditiously decided to teach us.

My course is General Nursing. I’m a second year and study off-campus on D’Olier Street. For the first six weeks of term, myself and the rest of my course have been on specialised placements. This means that we move around Dublin and Kildare, learning how to become healthcare professionals in a variety of specialist areas. Our days generally start around 7.30am, depending on the medical area, and finish at 8.30pm. For second year, we have to complete a fourteen week block of clinical placement. Having just completed one block, we will continue the remainder in January. Nursing students, however, are not the only undergraduate degree in Trinity that must complete a set amount of clinical hours annually before they graduate as qualified professionals. Students of Occupational Therapy, Medicine, Physiotherapy, Social Work, Speech and Language Therapy, and Radiation Therapy to name a few commit their life to this obstacle called placement every year.

“Working and communicating with patients and colleagues in the hospital environment exposes you to a discrepant yet thrilling, mature world.”

The structure of the second year course this year requires a certain level of discipline, organisation, and the ability to use what time you have off to the best of your ability. From talking to peers, many Nursing students work part-time jobs at weekends or put themselves on call for agency work during the week. This tends to be where the will for society life dissipates and students convince themselves that it would be fatiguing and difficult to balance a society or sport on top of both the course’s hours and a part time job, especially for those who commute from neighbouring counties.

Like every other student in Trinity, Nursing students encounter a certain degree of stress. Along with assignments and general coursework, many find the long hours of placement to be an emotional stress. Working and communicating with patients and colleagues in the hospital environment exposes you to a discrepant yet thrilling, mature world – one that is poles apart from the calming green, cobbled campus that you learn to adore on your days off. If you involve yourself in a society or sport, the ability to leave a long day in the hospital and travel straight to an evening society event on campus is a labour of love. Often, you physically can not get to your event and that is when you count on the friends you’ve made from other courses to understand the difficult nature of commitment.

“If I was to give a first year medicine or nursing student some advice it would be to use your time off socialising with people from other areas of campus.”

Many clubs and societies prepare annually for intervarsities. For example, if you love rowing and are a member of DU Boat Club, a club that requires constant commitment to training, it can be impossible to make the session or get on a team when you have a course that requires frequent placement. This is just the nature of a Health Science degree and it is up to you to balance the hours that you have free to make training in college. Trinity Musical Theatre Society holds a scattering of medicine and nursing students amongst its members, who find time to participate in the annual musical. Therefore, it is feasible to say that just because Health Science students often can’t commit to train on a team full-time or make every single rehearsal in an afternoon or evening due to long hours, this should not prevent the interaction and friendships that evolve from going to gatherings whenever one can.

In contrast, being a member on a society committee can pose its own relevant difficulties. Ida Lis, Chair of DU Nursing and Midwifery Society, which was officially launched this October, acknowledged: “We’re all very understanding to the limited availability of most of our students and by having different year groups on the committee, you are guaranteed that at least one member will be on a clinical placement. Therefore, it’s difficult to have a fully attended meeting. That said, we try to make all of our events and meetings on campus.”

If I was to give a first year Medicine or Nursing student some advice, it would be to use your time off socialising with people from other areas of campus. Going to evening events and talks that draw your mind away from the world of healthcare, is grounding and time well spent. Trinity has given me that opportunity through societies like the Vincent De Paul (VDP), through which I’ve met many hardworking and kind individuals from a diverse range of courses from English through to Engineering. With numerous volunteering activities held by school and activity leaders every day of the week, it’s not difficult for myself to take part in this society during the year.

“To those who still feel isolate studying off the campus that we are lucky enough to associate with, it is never too late to turn that around and start building the memories.”

Shauna Sutton, a third year Children’s and General Nursing student, and secretary of DU Rifle Club, gave her insight regarding being involved in a College society as a nursing student based off campus. “I really enjoy it. It’s a lot of work to be involved on top of the course, but everyone’s very supportive. It’s a great club and people help me out when needs be.” Two other students from General Nursing are on the DU Rifle Club committee, and Sutton believes that being part of a society committee has definitely helped in terms of “developing skills including organisation, communication, and time management which is super helpful in a Health Science course”. DU Rifle Club in particular, like many sports clubs on campus, meet in the evenings so being in a nine to five course off campus makes the club accessible. Like many Health Science students with commitments, it was agreed that a lot of clubs and societies expect some level of commitment that Nursing students can’t always promise.

Conclusively, students studying off campus will still graduate at the end of their four years standing in Front Square, the warm heart of the community. Becoming a qualified nurse with the opportunity to travel and work in any city in the world requires constant self-motivation but I would stress the importance of earning that degree alongside a wealth of memories gained from immersion in College events and those society weekends away that crafted early friendships and experiences.

Regretting not wholly immersing oneself in College and campus life post graduation is a factor that I was vaguely aware of when starting Nursing: therefore, I try to stay involved socially whenever time permits it. To those who still feel isolated studying off campus, it’s never too late to turn around and start building memories that will encompass you on the road to that final day of internship.