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Although restrictions are now being gradually reduced, lockdown measures still remain very apparent across the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Nurse education has increasingly moved to online learning, with many first-year students having their clinical placements postponed.
Although essential, these moves have isolated students from their support networks and environments that promote their health and wellbeing at a time when they may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of isolation. Most students have required further pastoral support from their lecturers and the student support services within the university.
Not all students have been able to access clinical placements due to a shortage of relevant areas. Some clinical areas have been unusually quiet during the pandemic and there hasn’t been the availability for students to be placed within a conducive learning environment.
This has meant that some cohorts have been ‘divided’ and students have followed either a clinical route or a theoretical route. This has taken its toll on both groups – raising anxiety for those on a clinical placement as their theoretical work has had to take a ‘back seat’, and those that are on the theoretical route have rising anxieties and frustration about missing valuable clinical experience.
This appears to have primarily affected the second-year students who will be entering in to their final year in September. They are, understandably, concerned about their lack of clinical exposure and the prospect of being a newly qualified staff nurse in just over a year.
The university have attempted to bridge these gaps by providing an array of virtual learning and simulated experiences but, of course, this does not provide the exposure that the students would get within the actual clinical area.
Modules that are usually taught face to face are now being delivered virtually. This is not ideal as many experiences cannot be captured in the same way. Interprofessional collaboration with, for example, police, social workers, clinicians and service users, used successfully in many modules, may not be feasible and the student experience may not be as diverse as if taught within the university setting.
However, we are adaptable, and our digital technological skills are becoming more adept every day. Hopefully, although a different experience, it will still be a positive learning one.
Many of the students that are placed clinically are torn between wanting to carry out their nursing role to the best of their ability, alongside the natural concern that they have about placing their loved ones at risk.
Some students have vacated their homes and are residing in hospital accommodation during their extended placements. This has added further burden to their already heightened stress levels.
Supernumerary status is no longer an option – although the majority of our students do report to feeling well-supported within their extended placements. Some qualified staff are rather confused as to what their own role now consists of, and what the student may now be allowed to do.
Reassurances have been given that students will still require supervision and are expected to work within a delegated framework appropriate to their stage of training.
“Each student has a very different personal journey that they are fighting their way through”
As this is an emergency situation the guidelines are not tried and tested and the university are, understandably, bombarded with questions from both clinicians and students on a daily basis. We may not have all of the answers but we will certainly try to source them.
Some students are ‘self-isolating’ due to their own health concerns or members of their family. Others have, very sadly, lost relatives to Covid-19. Each student has a very different personal journey that they are fighting their way through.
This is not the training that they signed up to of course, but they have risen to the challenge to the best of their ability, or within the circumstances that they find themselves in.
Being a student nurse in a pandemic will certainly enrich their experience in some way and, although heartbreakingly so for far too many, perhaps some positive experiences may come from this dreadful situation.
Fiona Cust is senior lecturer in children’s nursing, Staffordshire University