Opt in, opt out or no choice – three members share their perspectives of being nursing students during the COVID-19 pandemic
'I have good days and bad'
I’ve had no choice but to opt out of clinical practice during the pandemic, as severe asthma and chronic kidney disease means I’ve been told to shield. I’ve already been in hospital with suspected COVID-19 – fortunately, I was negative – but I have family members who’ve had it.
If I had the choice, I probably would have opted in. I’m a very practical person and I feel I can’t use the nursing skills I have at the moment. I have good days and bad, when I feel like I’m beaten.
Keeping in daily touch with other nursing students has been really useful. They remind me I’m doing my bit by staying at home. I’ve also had really good support from my university.
Looking ahead, I’m hoping to be able to qualify as scheduled, in September 2021. There is guidance about other ways of making up practice hours, with universities being asked to be flexible.
For those who either can’t opt in or have chosen not to, I would say it’s not the end of the world. When everyone else is tired, physically and emotionally, we will be there.
Scott Doughty, second-year adult nursing student, University of Sunderland
'Initially I was anxious'
I was on a short placement on an oncology ward when it changed to looking after COVID-19 patients at the end of the second week. I had a choice about whether I continued or not. Initially I was anxious, but when I thought it through, all the safeguards were in place and the ward manager was really supportive, so I thought why not?
It’s still been hard. I’ve had a couple of really tough days. Someone passed away and the family was unable to visit because they were self-isolating. I was with the patient, holding their hand and making sure they knew they weren’t alone. That really got to me.
Now I’ve opted to do an extended clinical placement on the ward. It was a difficult decision and I’m a little bit frightened. I live with my parents and even though they’re not in the high-risk category, I still worry about bringing COVID-19 home.
Sometimes I’m able to process what’s happening around me, but often I have to put it aside for a while, so I can finish the tasks that need to be done. There are good moments too. At my trust, one patient in his 90s recovered and went home. Seeing something positive made my day.
Heather Massie, third-year adult nursing student, Preston University
'It felt unsafe to me'
My initial response to the options available was not to opt in to an extended clinical placement, but I was tempted financially and briefly changed my mind, before returning to my first instinct.
It was difficult and I felt a lot of pressure, including from social media. But it didn’t feel right, ethically or morally, when I looked at the NMC Code and the original education standards. From the beginning, it felt unsafe to me. I was particularly concerned about our supernumerary status being taken away.
I’ve had to think about the bigger picture. I want to get my management placement under the original guidelines and standards, not the emergency ones.
Whether I will be able to qualify as scheduled this September is unknown at the moment. That was made very clear to me by my university, as I was making my decision. We have no idea when things will return to normal. But coping with the pandemic isn’t the future and it isn’t how things will be in 10 years’ time.
My decision has thrown all my immediate plans up in the air. Although it feels like I’ve taken a step back, really, it’s just a little bump in the road and it won’t be forever.
Rachel Cahoon, third-year adult nursing student, Ulster University