COVID-19: Opting in to a placement on a covid-positive ward

When Covid-19 first became worldwide news, Yemi Giwa was on placement just like thousands of other second year student nurses across the country. With the disease spreading like wildfire, that particular placement was cancelled and all teaching was taken online. Then a new opportunity presented itself. One that would require her to support the NHS in arguably its biggest challenge to date. Below, find out why Yemi opted in to this opportunity and discover what life is like as a student nurse on a covid-positive ward…

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When the news of COVID-19 breaking out in the UK was announced, I wasn’t overly worried because I just assumed it would all blow over.  However, as the Well-being and Inclusion Officer for the African Caribbean Society (ACS), I thought it would still be best to gather credible information on Covid-19 to share with members to ensure everyone was keeping safe and informed. I remember sending out information at the end of January and by March it had spread so much that I had to give another update. Social distancing was also enforced, so every event the ACS had planned was cancelled.

Everything was happening so fast – my plans to go on an elective placement to Tanzania with a friend of mine had to be postponed and I went from going to lectures, seminars and placement to my placement being completely cancelled and my lectures and seminars moving online. The number of lectures and seminars declined after a while as the teaching for the units had come to an end, then we got news that our exams were cancelled and one of them turned into an essay.

The exam that was turned into an essay was on Health Psychology. According to my academic advisor, the programme teams were asked by faculty to consider how the assessment would be able to be modified and would still be deliverable (given the lockdown), so they decided that modifying Health Psychology into an essay would be suitable. As for the rest of the examinations, they have been substituted by something else and I will receive more information on this in the near future.

I decided to go home for Easter, right before lock-down as I did not want to end up being stuck in Manchester and wanted to be with my family.  What was supposed to be a three week Easter break turned to six weeks instead and when information was finally released we were given three options; opt-in (which meant the last placement of the year would continue and student nurses would be paid this time), opt-out (this meant that the student commences to third year but would have to make up the hours at a later date) or defer the year.

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I personally decided to opt in – I couldn’t see myself not helping during this pandemic, gaining clinical experience and potentially saving lives at the same time. I was thinking of getting a job during the summer anyway as a healthcare assistant, so for me this route was perfect. Don’t get me wrong. I was absolutely terrified about the thought of opting in and articles on how the BAME community are highly affected by this virus, did not help the case either. But it is unlike me to not take risks and this is a risk I am willing to take in order to help the NHS alongside amazing healthcare professionals and fellow students.

I made this decision because nursing is my passion, I care about people and want to make a positive difference. It is just sad that student nurses are not always valued the way we should be and hearing things like “student nurses in training are supernumerary and are not deemed to be providing a service” from members of the parliament who have not walked a day in our shoes, is insulting and a massive slap in the face. If risking our own health and potentially our lives to help the NHS is not a service, I do not know what is.

On the bright side our work does not always go unnoticed, during the pandemic the public has shown great appreciation for healthcare professionals which I am very happy about and grateful for. Although I do not do this work to get praise, it is nice to hear and see people’s gratitude occasionally.

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At the moment my placement is in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) and the ward I am on specifically is a Covid positive ward. We must wear full PPE – which consists of a surgical gown, mask, visor, gloves and apron – to ensure ourselves and those around us are fully protected. This has made it quite challenging to communicate as a lot of the work nurses do relies on communication. I find myself really squinting my eyes to reiterate that I am smiling, and I emphasise the tone of my voice, so people hear me through the mask properly but not too loud, so I do not sound angry. It is a very strange experience if I am being honest, and I’m still getting used to it!

Although Covid-19 is on everyone’s minds at the minute, we are still treating hundreds of other patients with non-covid related issues. As the name suggests, work on the ICU can be intense and we have to treat patients with all sorts of serious injuries. For example, within the first hour of my first night shift on placement, a patient was admitted with a head injury and multiple rib fractures after being hit by a motorcycle. Don’t get me wrong it’s not like that all the time, there are opportunities to learn and to improve on existing skills; it is a good placement!

As for the future. I’m hopeful that this virus will be dealt with and that life will go back to ‘normal’, but right now I am focused on learning as much as I can, helping to the best of my ability and making a difference.

To read more from our students about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their studies click here


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