Nursing in a pandemic

Newly qualified in the face of COVID-19: Amber’s story

Amber shares her experiences so far of being a newly qualified nurse working in intensive and primary care

This time last year I was coming to the end of my adult nurse training. I was excited for the future and had been offered a job in the area of my final placement – general practice. Never could I have anticipated that a few months down the line of qualifying I would be nursing during a global pandemic but, then again, I don’t think anybody anticipated COVID-19.

During nurse training you’re equipped and prepared for all sorts of demanding and emotionally challenging events such as encountering death, road traffic accidents, domestic violence and severe mental illness. I think I saw more in two years while I was training than I have seen in my whole life. If I think back to how I deal with unusual and stressful situations now compared to how I felt on my first day as a student nurse, I have definitely learnt ways of managing that stress and remaining calm for patients and their families.

A challenging environment

During the pandemic I’ve been working in my normal job in primary care and doing bank shifts in intensive care. We’ve scaled back quite a lot of non-essential appointments in primary care. I wanted to do something additional to help people, which is why I went forward to work in an ICU (intensive care unit).

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Amber in PPE

Even though working in intensive care is a challenging environment, I feel proud to be part of the team and be able to play a small part in helping tackle the virus. Just to be able to hold someone’s hand and reassure them is a real privilege and, I hope, a comfort to patients.

It was incredibly difficult seeing a room full of COVID-19 patients very sick and on ventilators, but the thing I found most difficult was hearing their relatives cry down the phone because they were unable to be there with their loved ones. No amount of training really prepares you for that – you are prepared to see very sick people, bodily fluids and people in pain, but not for distressed families separated from their loved ones.

In at the deep end

This is a totally new environment that we are all trying to get to grips with. Newly qualified nurses across the country have very much been thrown in at the deep end. Preceptorship schemes have pretty much been put on hold during the pandemic. 

While I fully admire those students who have gone forward to the frontline on extended placements, I also respect those that have opted out because they are concerned about the safety aspects of not completing their training properly and going straight into something with a lot of uncertainty. 

We go towards danger to care for strangers 

I feel that the government relies too heavily on nurses’ goodwill. We go towards danger to care for strangers because we believe in helping people and doing the very best for our patients. 

I was very lucky to be the last cohort of student nurses to receive an NHS bursary – I wouldn’t have been able to complete my training without it as I was already in debt from a previous degree. Now it’s crucial the government reimburses all the student nurses who are working during the pandemic and not just rely on them to prop up the health service.

 A shift in nursing

I hope that some positives will come from these difficult times. I love the NHS and I am so proud to be a part of it, however, as a student nurse and upon qualifying, I’ve witnessed bullying, poor management and low morale. 

But recently I’ve noticed a shift within nursing and the NHS where people are working more collaboratively and supporting each other, whether working in the community or in secondary care. I sincerely hope that this continues. Everybody’s work within nursing and the NHS is vital and we should be celebrating this.  

Submissions are open

Do you want to write for RCN Students? If you are keen to share your experiences of being a student or newly qualified during the pandemic, get in touch with us at studentsmagazine@rcn.org.uk

Newly qualified nurse handbook

To help support nursing staff, especially final-year students and newly qualified nurses (NQN), during the COVID-19 emergency the RCN has made its NQN handbook available online to non-members as well as members. It provides guidance on employment, career planning and much more.

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