Nursing studies

COVID-19: how working at the Nightingale has changed my student experience

Two students describe their first weeks in the workplace, and what has helped them cope

Nathan Harrison: ‘Working in a field hospital is an amazing experience’

As the NHS continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing students at the University of Salford are helping to tackle the pandemic by caring for patients at local hospitals.

Nursing students have been taking up the option of an extended placement

Second-year adult nursing student Nathan Harrison has opted to do an extended clinical placement to continue his studies.

While he waits to hear where he will be deployed, he is working as a healthcare support worker at Manchester’s 750-bed Nightingale Hospital, which has been set up specifically to deal with patients with COVID-19.

    ‘Working in a field hospital is an amazing experience,’ says Mr Harrison. ‘When I started my programme, I never imagined I would have this opportunity. It’s a different way of working. People have come from different areas and fields to work together to treat patients. It’s all about the team.’

    While access to personal protective equipment (PPE) has been an issue for some healthcare staff around the country, he has no direct experience of any shortages. ‘It has always been provided,’ says Mr Harrison.

    ‘People are always asking if I’m worried about getting the coronavirus, since I’m regularly exposed to people who have it. But I’m not scared. I feel supported and reassured that we are prepared to care for these patients.’

    Social media has provided essential peer support during the pandemic

    Working in a hospice before becoming a nursing student has provided him with coping mechanisms for when patients die. ‘I also have personal support from my partner and family, who are all there for me,’ he says. Running and keeping in touch with friends via social media also provide relaxation and time away from the crisis.

    Mr Harrison chairs the university’s nursing society, which is supporting students during the pandemic. ‘It has given me a chance to get to know more people, both students and staff,’ he says.

    View our COVID-19 resources centre

    The society has created a SharePoint site, helping students access the latest information and guidance on COVID-19 to support their practice and make sure they stay safe.

    Peer support is important for all student in uncertain times

    They have also set up a COVID-19 peer support group on Facebook. ‘This time is especially hard for those who are training in healthcare,’ says Mr Harrison. ‘Peer support is crucial. The Facebook group helps students talk to each other and share the amazing things they are doing for their patients.’

    The group is targeted at all nursing students, whether they are doing an extended clinical placement or not. ‘The pandemic affects us all in different ways and we want to make sure everyone feels supported. Students have found it really valuable to have the space to talk to each other,’ he says. 

    Reflecting on his experiences so far, Mr Harrison says: ‘It’s taught me that really big things can be achieved in a short time. Working at Nightingale has been such a memorable experience. I’ve learned a lot – including much more about infection control and the team-working ethic.’

    ‘I’m doing the best I can for patients – and that helps me cope’

    Fellow second-year student Kerry Cain is currently working bank shifts as a healthcare support worker in the emergency department (ED) at the Royal Oldham Hospital.

    ‘I want a career in nursing to help people and the best time to do that is when I’m needed,’ says Ms Cain, who is juggling working full-time with studying before and after shifts for her nursing degree.

    Ms Cain has also opted to undertake the extended placement, with her preference being the ED. ‘It’s not just about the money, I want to help,’ she says. ‘I’d feel like a fraud if I wasn’t helping.’

    ‘I took one patient’s hand and told him that although he didn’t know me, he wasn’t alone and that I would stay with him and not leave’

    Kerry Cain: ‘I'd feel like a fraud
    if I wasn't helping’

    On one particularly memorable shift, she stayed with a patient who had COVID-19 symptoms until he died.

    ‘His family could only spend a few minutes with him before they went home,’ she says.

    Valuable lessons in end of life care 

    ‘He deteriorated quite quickly but was still awake. I took his hand and told him that although he didn’t know me, he wasn’t alone and that I would stay with him and not leave.’

    While caring for patients in their last hours is tough, it is vital to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect, she says.

    ‘It’s very sad, but I know in my heart I’ve done the best I can and I couldn’t do any more for that person. That helps me with the sadness.' 

    Lynne Pearce is a health journalist

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