Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in the United Kingdom, our third year Adult Nursing students were due to embark on their final placements before qualifying as registered nurses. With the pandemic putting a hold on all face to face teaching and the majority of placements across the University, our nursing students have been given the option to embark on full time employment right away. Below, third year Adult Nursing student, Olivia Stanners, discusses the changes to the course since the outbreak, and reveals why she decided to opt in…
The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in numerous significant changes to nursing over the past few months. It feels like a whirlwind, and it is strange thinking back to being on placement before COVID-19.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and Health Education England have given third year Student Nurses two main options. The first is to ‘opt in’ into paid, full time employment, leaving the academic work, such as the dissertation behind. The second option is to ‘opt out’ of employment and defer placement until it is safe to restart.
This was a big decision for us to make with many worries from our cohort about where we would be placed or if we would have supernumerary status on our placement. However, The University of Manchester were there to help guide and support us to make the best decision for ourselves, and we were encouraged to reach out for support during this process.
I have decided to opt in as I have a job starting in Autumn. Being employed during the current COVID-19 pandemic will provide invaluable clinical experience before qualifying.
Many changes occurred during the period before and after lockdown. Before the pandemic, third year student nurses were due to complete their final ‘sign off’ placement. Completing this 14-week placement is required in order to qualify as a Registered Nurse.
However, due to the recent restructuring of the NHS, many placements became unavailable to students, such as in outpatients or community settings. This meant that the NHS had to gear its focus towards COVID-19 patients, with more staff being needed in these wards.
Increasingly over the weeks after the lockdown, before we were originally due to start placement, hospitals were finding it hard to secure supernumerary status; this being a key element in placement as a student nurse. This meant that students were increasingly being counted towards part of the workforce. Due to this, the opt in and opt out decision was drawn up in collaboration with the NMC and Health Education England.
While carrying out this last placement, students will be under a paid contract at a Band 4 level, under a new role called an Aspirant Nurse. This new nursing role was created to fall in line with competencies required for 3rd year students in their final six months of the course.
This whole idea feels very strange to me while on placement, being employed by a trust rather than working as a student. Over this week I have had to complete lots of paperwork, which is not unfamiliar to a student nurse. I start my training next week to work on a COVID-19 ward which is both daunting yet exciting.
Many academic changes took place during the emergence of the pandemic. Beforehand, we were due to submit a 10,000-word dissertation and sit a final exam. However, due to the University’s closure, the exam was cancelled and the dissertation was reduced to 5000 words, so that a ‘no disadvantage’ policy was followed due to the unprecedented circumstances.
Those who ‘opted in’ into paid employment would no longer be required to submit a dissertation, meaning that I could no longer submit mine. This actually disappointed me because mine was pretty much finished and I’d spent a great deal of time doing research for it and writing it up. However, I still want to get it bound and take that very generic Instagram photo posing with my dissertation, because why not, I still did the work!
My dissertation focused on Cervical Screening which I hope to still apply to practice, as I would like to be a Practice or Sexual Health Nurse in the future. I will not let the work all be for nothing.
Appreciation of Student Nurses
Since the start of lockdown, it has been so heart-warming for me to see the love and appreciation the public has for NHS staff and especially people like me, student nurses. Seeing my course mates getting free food and gifts for all the hard work they are doing makes me feel proud (and envious) for what a valued part of this country we are now and will continue to be after the clapping stops.
However, what makes me happiest is seeing the amazing changes occurring, such as the Health Careers website seeing a 220% rise in interest in becoming a nurse. Additionally, I am grateful for the media campaigns and the political lobbying for abolishing Student Nurse fees, where student nurses are beginning to be as widely recognised as they should.
To read more from our students about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their studies click here