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Student nurses

This guide is for RCN members who are nursing students. It includes information on re-sits, appeals, complaints, placements, raising concerns and accountability.

Are you interested in playing an active role in the RCN? Find out how you can make a difference.


Practice placements

Practice placements are an essential part of nurse training and will equip you with the skills needed for a successful nursing career.

Placements are arranged by your University. When allocating placements they will take into account your circumstances such as where you live, whether you have dependants, and whether you have access to a car. Your University will have placement information online or in your student handbook. In it, you’ll find information about claiming expenses, supervision and assessment arrangements, and what to do if you cannot attend your placement.

You may have the opportunity to go on an elective placement overseas - this will give you invaluable experience. 

Our publication Helping Students Get the Best from their Practice Placement will help you think about how to get the most from your placement, explore what you can bring to your placement and what to expect in terms of learning experiences. 

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Raising concerns about placements

A lot of your time as a student will be spent on placement and seeing the theory being put into practice can raise many questions.

If you have concerns while undertaking your placement, firstly speak with your supervisor or mentor. Also, read your placement or student handbook to find out how to deal with these difficulties.

Contact us on 0345 772 6100 if you have followed your university's guidance and the problem still exists. Please also see our Raising concerns guide for RCN members.

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Failures, resits and appeals

If you fail your practice assessment, you should have been made aware of your development needs earlier in the placement.

You are entitled to additional time to address your learning and practice needs if you did not receive a mid-point interview or feedback about your need to develop.

If you fail an assignment, placement or examination, you would usually be offered an opportunity to re-sit.

If you still fail to meet the required standard following the attempts allowed under the course regulations, you can consider an academic appeal.

You can't appeal against academic judgement, but you could appeal if you believe that the judgement was not made fairly or in line with university process. You would need to follow your university’s academic appeal regulations.  

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Possible grounds for appeal

Situations which may be classed as grounds for appeal are as follows:

  • Mitigating circumstances. These are unforeseen or unavoidable disruptions to study caused by serious circumstances which took place during the period when course work was due (or in the run up to an examination/during the examination period). You cannot normally apply for mitigating circumstances after you have sat an examination or submitted an assignment, so it is always important to raise any concerns with your course tutor beforehand.
  • Procedural irregularities. You may feel that the process applied or conduct seen in an examination or coursework assignment fails to meet the standard procedures that are required of the educational institution where you study. If this is the case you must provide evidence that there are irregularities and a failure to meet a consistent approach to each student.
  • Unfair treatment. You may feel that you have been unfairly treated in comparison to your fellow students. Where you feel there is evidence of prejudice, bias or inadequate assessment on the part of one or more assessors, you must show that this had a direct effect on your results.
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Making an academic appeal

Read your student handbook to understand your university's assessment process, policies and procedures, as well as appeal time limits. Seek support from your personal or link-tutor and mentor and/or your Student Union.

If you have exhausted the appeals procedure and the issue is still unresolved, consider contacting the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

If you believe your place on the course or your NMC registration may be at risk as a result of the failure, please contact us as soon as possible on 0345 772 6100.

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Concerns about your university experience

If you have other concerns about your studies that you want to raise, such as deficiencies in the University’s standards of service or the quality of supervision or tuition, try and resolve them informally. If you are not satisfied with the response, read your university’s student complaints procedure to decide what to do next.

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Fitness to Practise

Any conduct, behaviour or other matter that could bear on your suitability for fitness to practise (or for dealing with patients) which comes to light during your studies will be handled under your University’s Fitness to Practise procedure.

Instances where the procedure might apply include concerns about character (such as convictions, plagiarism, falsifying records), serious unmanaged or untreated health problems, misconduct (abuse of patients or colleagues) or lack of competence.

If you believe your place on the course or your NMC registration may be at risk as a result of a Fitness to Practise investigation, please contact us as soon as possible on 0345 772 6100.

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Overseas electives

For information on student electives please see our guide on student electives overseas.

The RCN indemnity scheme will cover student members wishing to undertake elective placements abroad, subject to the conditions and exclusions explained in the indemnity document, and provided you are undertaking a health and social care activity acceptable to the RCN scheme.

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Accountability as a student nurse

Familiarise yourself with the 'students' section of the NMC website which outlines what is expected of you.

As a student you should not participate in any procedure that you are not fully prepared for, or which is not adequately supervised. If you find yourself in this situation, discuss the matter as quickly as possible with your mentor or personal tutor.

There may be times when you may not be directly accompanied by your mentor, supervisor or another registered colleague. This may happen in emergency situations. As your skills, experience and confidence develop you will become increasingly able to deal with these situations but in the early stages of your education, you must not participate unless you are fully prepared and supervised.

Guidance for registered nurses seeking to delegate tasks to nursing students is available from the NMC. In particular, registered nurses should review the NMC’s Standards to Support Learning and Assessment in Practice (2008)

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Working in a health care support role as a nursing student

As a nursing student, you should not be rostered to work on the ward or within the sphere of nursing as a nurse.

Students are placed on the ward or within a sphere of nursing to undertake a clinical placement and meet certain learning needs. You should not be placed in a situation where adequate levels of support cannot be guaranteed. You are not placed 'to make up the numbers'.

If you are concerned that you are being required to carry out nursing duties, please call us on 0345 772 6100.

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You may undertake a health care support role but you should not undertake any role which is beyond your competence/skill base. Please see our information for healthcare assistants (HCAs) and assistant practitioners (APs).

Before agreeing to work as a health care assistant you should:

  • discuss any arrangements with your clinical supervisor
  • be paid a rate for the job
  • ensure that any nursing bank or agency specifies the basis of your attendance
  • have access to all locally agreed provisions / terms and conditions of service as other employees. 

It should be clearly understood by all staff that you are working as a health care assistant and not in a nursing student capacity.

Even though you will not be working by virtue of your status as a student nurse, you should still follow the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s (NMC) guidance for student nurses available from the NMC website.

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Registration with the NMC

When you have successfully completed your course, your University will submit your course completion and contact details to the NMC. The NMC will then send you a letter with your activation code and details of how to complete your application to join the register online. Ensure your University has your correct contact details so that this process isn’t delayed.

Your University will also send a declaration of health and character to support your application and, in your application to the NMC, you must also declare your health and character. This includes informing the NMC of relevant convictions, cautions or pending charges.

Read the NMC’s After you qualify information.

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Your finances

Our Student Money Guide will help you get the best out of your bursary and the benefits available to you a student member.  

If you are concerned about your financial situation, use your University’s student services. They may offer specialist money advice on budgeting, funding, hardship and consumer issues.

You can also contact Turn 2 Us, a national charity that helps people in financial hardship gain access to welfare benefits, charitable grants and support services.

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Need more advice?

Call RCN Direct on: 0345 772 6100