12-hour shifts, no pay. We are accustomed to hearing about the ongoing struggle faced by student nurses on placement in Ireland and the injustice done by the government to leave them very little financial support. This year, however, is bringing even greater strife, and that is the Covid-19 pandemic. Young men and women we see as our peers, close-friends and perhaps even family members have been pushed out to the frontline ahead of their time and into the deep end.
Michaela, to start with, what hospital are you currently on placement in?
I am currently on placement in the University Hospital Limerick.
What area of nursing are you specialising in?
I am studying General Nursing meaning that we do placements in medical and surgical wards, and also in specialist placements such as the Emergency Department, Paediatrics, Maternity, Theatre, etc.
What time does your day start and when does it finish?
My day starts at 7.30 in the morning and finishes at 8.30 in the evening.
What are the biggest changes to your routine as opposed to your placement before the pandemic?
Prior to the pandemic, I would usually have 4 days of placement during the week so the hours would be more evenly spread out throughout the week. However, since the pandemic we only have 3 days of placement per week resulting in longer, more tiring days as a measure to reduce the volume of contact within the hospital. Another change to the normal routine is extra documentation. Every morning before we can go to our placement sites, we must fill out a self-declaration that we are symptom-free and when moving from one ward or site to another, we must fill in a COVID-19 Healthcare Worker Relocation Self-Risk Assessment Form.
How long have you been on placement/how long have you left?
I have been on placement for six weeks now and I have six more weeks left.
Have you received compensation of any kind for costs such as travel expenses?
No. While on placement we must cover all travel/accommodation expenses upfront and once we are finished placement; we are reimbursed up to 50 euro a week. We must collect receipts throughout our placement for petrol, bus fares, and accommodation and hand them in after our placement is done. Travel expenses are only covered from the distance between UL and the placement site regardless of where we are living, and accommodation costs are only covered if there is no suitable public transport.
How has your placement altered your home life/personal life?
Being on placement can make it difficult to have time to do other things such as spending time with friends and family and engage in hobbies and exercising, even on days you would be so tired all you want to do is rest.
What are your biggest worries about the pandemic, personally?
Personally, my biggest worries regarding the pandemic are the resulting mental health struggles. In my role as a student nurse, I have encountered many people whose mental health is declining due to the pandemic, both young and old, who are suffering due to the fear of and anxiety about the risks of Covid-19, the disruption caused to normal routines that provide stability for so many, having to adapt to difficult changes, and lack of contact with essential support systems such as family, friends, partners. People are also not able to take part in sports which can be a big stress relief and coping mechanism. These stresses can come from financial loss due to unemployment caused by Covid to name one. I would be very worried that the effects of the pandemic on mental health will be a significant issue for a long time to come.
Do you think students need to adhere more strictly to restrictions or does it apply to all ages?
Every person regardless of age should take accountability for following the restrictions and the advice given to us in order to stop the spread of Covid-19. Ultimately, we are all only responsible for our own actions and it is pointless to assign the blame to one particular age group.
What is the biggest reward of working as a nurse?
Nursing is an extremely rewarding career and one of the most rewarding aspects is knowing that you can make a genuine difference in somebody’s day. Many people are distressed and upset when they are sick in hospital and having the ability to make such a difficult time in their lives more bearable with a friendly face, reassuring words, and a listening ear is a very gratifying feeling.
How do you mind your own mental health outside of work?
In order to mind my own mental health, I make sure that I get enough sleep every night, that I’m eating nourishing, healthy foods (most of the time!) and I take time to do things that I enjoy, such as going for a walk, reading a book or watching a movie. If I’ve had a stressful day I will meditate before going to sleep to relax my mind and body. If am struggling with my mental health, I reach out to my friends and family and most of the time their advice and support is enough to help. If I need further support, there are options such as the student counselling in UL or my GP.
What would be a piece of advice you would give to your peers on staying safe during the pandemic?
It is important to stay vigilant and not become complacent about Covid. You should always do your best to adhere to guidelines and look out for one another. It’s very easy to become confused, scared or frustrated in this situation but we are all in the same boat so we should make sure to support each other.
This is a difficult time for all students, the nursing and medical students in particular. What would you say to first year nurses who will be starting their placement in the coming weeks?
The first time you go out on placement is always a daunting prospect but now more so than ever! However, everybody that you encounter while on placement is aware of this and will do their best to help you settle in and get comfortable in your role. One of the best things you can do is ask questions. There are no stupid questions, and it is so much better to ask a million-and-one questions than to go into a situation you’re uncomfortable with or unsure about.
From Michaela’s experience, it is evident that our student nurses are working harder and longer in order to make up hours while protecting patients at the same time.