PS/PA/Student Stories

Supporting students during the Covod-19 crisis, Karen Hughes is a practice educator facilitator at Bangor University in north Wales and a registered bank nurse. Karen worked on a Covid-19 positive ward throughout the emergency and continued to support students during this challenging time.

Here Karen reflects on this difficult period and how she, along with her team, support the nurses of the future.

I have always been passionate about maintaining my clinical skills. When the pandemic spread, it was a natural instinct to offer my services on an acute area within the local health board.

I booked a shift on my usual area, but when I arrived on duty I was told it was now the Covid positive ward. I still recall the fear and trepidation I felt when walking into that area, until a sister I knew showed me how to wear my PPE and made me feel comfortable and safe.

I have shared that experience with students who opted into placements during the emergency. I understand how worrying it can be. Yet our nursing students have displayed courage and compassion within these trying, unprecedented times.

I work with an amazing team of lecturers, other practice educator facilitators and clinical staff. Between us we have done all we can to support the nurses of the future. We set up induction days, wellbeing centres, support forums, online teaching and a staffed online service for mentors, supervisors and assessors.

The transition to extended placements was achieved effectively and at speed, but it was inevitable that this would create unintended consequences. One of these was a greater amount of allocated students to some placement areas.

Some students were placed on clinical areas alongside more junior students. They joined them a couple of weeks after they had witnessed the effects of Covid-19 on areas and patients. This enabled them to provide support and advice and discuss worries, such as possibly transmitting this virus to those within their household.

We discussed the concept of the Collaborative Learning in Practice (CLiP) model with students, which I feel was central to my training. This model meant you were very proud to become a third year student, as it came with a great sense of achievement and respect. You would be involved in delegation and leadership skills, but more importantly, you would teach and motivate other students who were on duty.

We explored this, and third year students felt that they would be able to support the more junior students, with a supervisor or coach overseeing them both. The students and staff seem enthusiastic to try out this model and have also discussed what seems to be the notion of compassionate leadership where they provide leadership skills in times where sensitivity is required to staff, patients and loved ones.

The prospect of simulation has also been suggested on several occasions where other learning opportunities may be compromised. The new education standards (NMC 2018) no longer set a maximum number of hours of simulation but state it must be used effectively and proportionality to meet the learning outcomes of the standards.

Areas have been provided with situations where this may be introduced, such as medicine management, emergency acute care, and patient record keeping. All healthcare staff have been encouraged to provide teaching sessions, and several planned stations have been set up in areas for role play, quizzes and reflection.

The enthusiasm and motivation behind this has not been witnessed in a long time and I have felt a sense of pride in the organisation for the innovative ways that it has attempted to provide learning opportunities for students.

One of the most challenging consequences of caring at this time has been the sense of isolation that people using services have endured due to the restrictions around visiting. The emotional resilience required to sit with dying patients with distressing symptoms, who may otherwise be alone, takes its toll.

Yet to assist loved ones who could not visit by assisting with technology and the satisfaction and emotions evoked by simply seeing children talking with grandparents and friends on the children’s unit is wonderful. The intelligent kindness that our new curriculum is centred around has already been witnessed in our students and staff alike.

Finally, I will leave you with the image of a student nurse I met in a local hospice. Without knowing whether she would receive any remuneration (as this was a private placement setting), she worked tirelessly with patients who were dying and had complex needs.

She said it was a privilege to be allocated to this area. Her commitment and the commitment of so many students during this time has been an inspiration to me. They are the nurses of the future and I am proud to be involved in educating and nurturing them.