'It's taken its toll mentally': the life of a student nurse in a pandemic

Portrait of tired exhausted nurse or doctor sitting on floor in hospital

A student nurse has spoken of the tribulations of working throughout the pandemic whilst still completing her degree at university. This is a stock image. - Credit: SIBAS_minich/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A student nurse has spoken of the tribulations of working throughout the coronavirus pandemic whilst still studying and "not knowing what environment" she would be faced with at the hospital. 

The University of East Anglia (UEA) student, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been working on placement at a Norfolk trust and is doing up to 48 hours a week.

She said students are "trying their hardest to make a difference" but it has "taken its toll mentally".

Sally Hardy, UEA's Dean of Health Sciences, said the university is "incredibly proud" of its students and is providing a range of options in addition to the usual support. 

The student said she is required to do a mixture of different shifts but as student nurses do not have access to trust emails she is not aware of any Covid updates. 

"Shifts tend to be 7am to 7.30pm or 7pm to 7.30am," she said. "Whilst on shift, like staff members, we get two 30-minute breaks. On average, I do 15,000 to 17,000 steps a shift, you're on your feet non-stop.

"We miss the Covid-19 updates and therefore don't know if our wards turn red, meaning it is Covid-19 infected, whilst not on shift.

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"It can be quite worrying not knowing what environment you're going to show up to work in."

In January of this year, the Nursing and Midwifery Council made a statement saying third-year nurses need to have the option to enrol in a paid placement to help bridge the NHS shortage and students can complete their course through placement. 

But the UEA has confirmed that student nurses need to complete all aspects of their degree.

"Under Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) emergency standards issued last week, all students are required to continue to complete both the theory elements of their degree as well as clinical placements, in order to graduate," said Ms Hardy,.

“We have a range of options and mechanisms in place in addition to the usual support to allow our students to succeed. We are working with our placement partners to support and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic plus continuing to meet the professional governing bodies national standards.

“We provide assessment support and are trying to be as flexible as we can in our education approach such as through extensions and adjustments for assessments wherever possible."

The student nurse said "it is a lot of pressure" as she wants to do well in her degree. 

"Even if we opted in we would need to turn in our 7000-word literature review, a 2000 word service improvement assignment, a safe medicate exam which has a pass mark of 100pc as well as undertaking paid placement and our module six theory, which is mental to be frank," she said. "The usual placement pressures were tough but this feels so much more intense.

She added: "Up to this point, we’ve worked for free and it will be at least another month until we could get paid. We do "up to 48 hours" a week. Before Christmas, I worked three weeks in a row and my hours were 45, 46.5 and 48 hours.”

"It's taken its toll mentally, on all university students, but definitely on student nurses. We're trying our hardest to make a difference within the trusts we work in, to provide people with proper care while they have Covid-19."

"The nurses and HCAs go above and beyond on the wards to try support us students and teach us whenever they can. It's hard right now, but they truly do so much for us and their patients."

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