About You:

Why did you choose to study at Queen Margaret University (QMU)? 

When deciding where I wanted to go to University it was important to me that I considered how best I learn. Having already studied at University at home in Ireland I knew that being a part of a very large cohort didn't suit me. To be honest, being unknown meant it was too easy for me to skip classes, not focus and to get away with not doing work. Therefore, I needed to be in a smaller group, just like at school, where I could put my head down and work as hard as I could.

I also like to know everybody in my class and I appreciate being known. At QMU class sizes (in comparison to other universities) are relatively small. In my first year, there were less than fifty students in my class. Lecturers got to know us individually, they knew our individual work abilities, they knew if we were not participating. This is what I needed.

Furthermore, I love how small and modern the QMU campus is. Having everything - be it classrooms, lecture halls, the library and even a canteen - all under one roof meant that there was no confusion about where I needed to be. An added bonus was that by living in halls in my first year, I could roll out of bed ten minutes before a lecture started and still make it on time. QMU is also ideally situated. It's only seven minutes by train from the city centre and about half and hour by bus. Musselburgh is also a short five minute journey away where there are shops, restaurants, pubs and a beach!

What interested you about your chosen course?

Being a practical learner, the main attraction to the course for me was that I would spend half of each study year on a clinical placement. I learn best by physically seeing and doing activities therefore this was a huge pull factor for me. I was also really impressed by the range of modules that would be taught from years 1-4 and I especially liked that I would have the opportunity to work alongside other healthcare students as part of our interprofessional education module. Not only would I meet people from other courses, but I would also gain a better understanding of what it is their course and job title entailed which would be of huge benefit to me when it came to clinical placements.

What attracted you to study in Edinburgh?

I fell in love with Edinburgh the very first time that I visited for interviews. I could get a direct flight from Cork or Dublin and be there in an hour. There are direct links from the airport to the city centre by tram, bus or taxi. In comparison to other capital cities, Edinburgh is relatively small and is easy to get around on foot. There are so many things to see and do. I also loved discovering that there is a huge Irish community in Edinburgh so I knew that I would never feel far away from home.


The Course:

What have you most enjoyed about your course? What has been the highlight?

I've definitely enjoyed the clinical placements the most. I feel so lucky that I had the opportunities that I did to work in areas such as general medicine wards, High Dependency Units, surgical wards, surgery theatres and in the community. I also really enjoyed getting to know the personalities of each and every one of my lecturers. I feel blessed that I was able to form such a close bond with so many of them and I feel genuinely blessed to have been taught by such incredible people. Although I have not experienced it yet, I am certain that the highlight will be graduation where I'll be able to see the results of all of the hard work and dedication that I and my cohort have put into our work after a challenging four years, especially our final year during which we were also coping with Covid-19.

Have you participated in a course activity you found especially interesting?

I really enjoyed working at the COVID-19 test centre that was set up in the canteen at QMU. The test centre was set up in line with government advice to test students for COVID-19 before they went back to their homes at Christmas (in December 2020) and when they returned back to university in January 2021. Whilst working at the test centre I was able to work with people from other courses not just from healthcare and I was able to assist them with learning the importance of infection prevention and control, time management, how to put on PPE carefully and then take it off again. The opportunity also allowed me to get to know a lecturer with whom I had not had much contact previously, but to whom I would now consider myself close.  

How have your lecturers supported your learning?

The lecturers at QMU are amazing. Each and every one of them. With the majority of them still working as part-time nurses, they appreciated the stress and pressure that we were under at the best of times and were always there to offer assistance and advice. Being a small cohort, they all knew their students by name which was a nice personal touch. I found that our lecturers were a huge part of my development at QMU. I don’t think I would have made it to the end without them.

What have been some of your challenges with the course and university life? How have you overcome them?

The hardest part of the course and University life, for me, was finding that balance between work and personal time. Nursing is a very demanding and challenging course. There is a lot of hard work that needs to be put in from day one and if you take your foot off the pedal at any stage you will find yourself falling behind.

Having a detailed work plan is key and allowing yourself to have fun and enjoy life is important too. Sometimes, I put too much pressure on myself and did not take the time that I needed to spend time with friends, enjoy a night out, blow off some steam. Especially in years 3 and 4 when the workload increased. Therefore, in my final year, I decided to stick to a plan that, because of COVID-19, was often subject to change.

However, I got back into my fitness and would go to the gym every morning. I ate healthy meals, I took vitamins to complement my healthy mind and body. I set myself a goal of working 9-5 Monday to Friday (like a full time job) and allowed myself time off at weekends to unwind. Getting out into the fresh air when the weather was nice really helped to clear my head and of course having a take-away coffee at the end gave me something to look forward to. I tried to see my friends (when I was allowed to do so) once a week. I wish that I had done this from day one at University. In my final year everything took shape. 

Have you taken part in a placement as part of your course and if so, what was your experience?

Yes I have. Every year, Nursing students at QMU take part in 15 weeks of placement. During your first three years, you do two separate placements a year, and in the fourth year there is a 15-week long management placement. Personally, I was fortunate enough to enjoy all of my placements. As mentioned before, I worked in a variety of areas which was great.

At QMU, students in their first year will have a community placement before Christmas, and a care of the elderly placement just before the summer. In Year 2, students will have a medical and surgical placement. In Year 3 students have the opportunity to work in acute settings for both placements. Finally, in Year 4 students generally have the opportunity to choose their top three areas of interest for their management placement.

Do you have any advice for students who might be interested in applying for this course?

To believe in yourself and to never give up. Work as hard as you can and always ask questions whilst on placement and at uni. When staff see that a student nurse is interested in what it is they are doing, incredible opportunities come their way.


The Student Experience:

What QMU student services have you used (e.g. Effective Learning Service or the ‘Employer and Enterprise Mentoring Programme’ or the Wellbeing Service) to support you through your university journey and how have they helped you?

The library at QMU is where I spent so much of my time when studying for exams or preparing to write essays. It is an incredible facility with a huge range of resources available for students. The online library with e-books, databases, and referencing guidelines, to name a few, is extremely helpful and I would suggest that all students have a look at the library website during their first few weeks at QMU. It will make your life so much easier in the long run.

What’s your ‘top tip’ for making the most of being a student?

Enjoy yourself. But enjoy doing whatever it is that you want to do. Don't ever let anyone tell you what to do. If you are someone who enjoys going on a night out three or four times a week - enjoy that. If you are someone who would rather dedicate their time to sports - enjoy that too. And if you are someone who would rather have a cosy night in by yourself to unwind - that is absolutely fine too. I would suggest working hard from day one so that you do not leave yourself with a pile of work to do at the end of the year. The end of the year is an exciting time as Nursing students get 3 months off for the summer so enjoy that lead up and don’t put yourself at risk of having to repeat essays or exams during your summer holidays.

What has been the most valuable lesson that you’ve learned at University?

I have learned that the only person you can rely on for your happiness is yourself. Don’t put anyone else before yourself. You are at university for yourself, it is your degree at the end of the day. Work for yourself. Be there as a friend for others, and offer time to those who you think need it but do not bend over backwards for those who would not do it for you.


After QMU:

What are you plans after graduation? Tell us about your ambitions and where you see yourself in the future?

My short term goal and dream is to impress all the staff whilst on my management placement and to be offered a job on that particular ward. It would be a dream come true. I chose my management placement based on a previous placement experience and to date, it has once again not disappointed.  My medium term goal is to continue learning and to complete a postgraduate degree. Finally, my long term goal is to travel the world bringing my learned skills and experiences with me and provide them to those who need it most.

"I've definitely enjoyed the clinical placements the most. I feel so lucky that I had the opportunities that I did to work in areas such as general medicine wards, High Dependency Units, surgical wards, surgery theatres and in the community."
Emily O'Brien

[Published in 2020]