Posted Tuesday 16 November 2021
Sophie Robbins decided to re-enter education in her early 50s to pursue a career in nursing. Now in her second year of an adult nursing degree at Kingston University, Sophie reflects on her student placements – which included working on a Covid-19 positive ward at the height of the pandemic.
My first placement was due to take place in January 2021 close to the peak of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. I was a little bit apprehensive about starting my placement, with everything that was unfolding. The situation was changing very rapidly and hospitals were having to adapt their services to make them available to care for Covid-19 patients.
I got a placement in an elderly care ward at a London hospital. The ward looks after elderly patients who have a variety of conditions but when I arrived it had become a ward for Covid-19 patients, or what is often referred to as a red ward.
Myself and my fellow student from Kingston University arrived on our first day and our supervisors told us to forgo our nursing uniforms and instead put on scrubs and full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) including masks, visors, and gloves.
Every patient on the ward had tested Covid-19 positive and we were working under enhanced cleaning protocols and doing everything we could to keep patients and staff safe. Within my first three days of being there, we sadly had five patient deaths on the ward, including some people I'd nursed.
It was emotionally demanding but, because I'd never worked in a healthcare setting before, I had nothing to compare it to. I wanted to get stuck in and do what I could to help in these extraordinary circumstances.
After the first week, Covid-19 positive patients were moved to a dedicated area in the hospital, while we were dealing with a range of conditions you would typically treat on a geriatric ward such as respiratory infections and diseases, dementia, and fractures caused by falls. It turned out to be a really good introduction to a variety of conditions and I learnt a lot in a short space of time.
As a first-year student, it was great to be able to talk to patients and have the space to be able to learn the rhythms of working in a hospital setting. There were quiet times in the day where I could sit down with a patient, next to their bed, bring them a cup of tea and just have a nice chat with them.
Chatting to patients is a fundamental part of being a nurse and is one of the reasons why I decided to go into the profession. I found it was satisfying to listen to the patients. A lot of them lived on their own outside of the hospital and they were so happy to have someone to listen to their life stories. It was fascinating to hear some of the amazing things they had done when they were younger.
On my second placement, I was based on a major trauma ward where I was looking after patients who had been in road traffic accidents, with wounds and, in some cases, people who had survived suicide attempts.
The two main types of injuries were brain injuries and chest injuries, so it was quite intensive nursing. The patients would come to us directly from A&E (accident and emergency), surgery, or an intensive care unit once they were considered stable enough.
When they are in those other settings, they are either unconscious or in so much pain that they are not particularly responsive, but by the time they come to the major trauma ward, the majority have recovered enough to be able to talk.
On top of discussing their treatment and how they were feeling, I could have honest conversations with them about day-to-day life and build a real connection with them, which I found very rewarding.
Being prepared for placements and learning about infection control, patient communication and who to contact back at the University with concerns gave me comfort and support. Having access to Kingston University's simulation facilities in the School of Nursing helped me to prepare for both placements. To be able to go into a clinical setting, which closely resembles a real ward, is immensely reassuring.
I can practise all the things I need to, but I don't have to worry about the immediate consequences, which means I can learn from my mistakes and prepare for the real thing on placement.
Head of School of Nursing Dr Julia Gale praised Sophie for going above and beyond and thanked her for sharing her experience. "It is always a pleasure and delight to me when a student nurse goes that extra mile and finds the time to write about their experience. A student's nurse experience is invaluable for other students to hear about," she said.
"It also provides a barometer for teaching staff to check that the learning and support is equally of value to students. Sophie is clearly a role model for other trainee nurses at Kingston University and St George's," she added.