Brave student nurse reveals what it’s like to fight COVID-19 on NHS frontline | #students | #parents

Rachael Palmer is a third year adult nursing student from the University of Plymouth, now working as a band four nurse at a hospital in Somerset.

She is one of thousands of students to have joined the NHS frontline in recent months to support the UK’s COVID-19 relief effort.

She’s based in a minor injuries unit where she will remain until the end of July. She found out where she’d be placed on April 15, and started just five days after, but was eager to get out there.

Working in this capacity enables Rachael to finish training to become band five registered nurse, but she was apprehensive about ‘what it might all look like out there’ and whether she would be useful to the team.

Thanks to the welcoming environment, it didn’t take long for Rachael to settle in and become a valued member of staff.

In between long shifts and hopefully enough sleep, she managed to speak with me.

One story in particular highlights the lessons learned every day in her job, and just how thankful we are for our keyworkers.

She said: “Due to the nature of the clinical setting, patients often present to minor injury units in immense pain, distressed and anxious about the consultation ahead, let alone mid-pandemic.

‘There’s a sense of imposter syndrome, when you near the end of your course and you cannot believe you’ll soon be the registered nurse making clinical decisions, but here you are’

“I was reminded how COVID-19 is affecting our mental health last week, when a patient presented with acute chest pain and shortness of breath.

“During the consultation, it was clear that the pandemic circumstances were severely exacerbating her existing depression and anxiety.

“She was isolated from her family, felt unable to talk to anyone, and all-consumed by the prospect of contracting COVID-19 and dying.

“After her initial investigations, I sat and talked with her, learnt about her family in Scotland, her fears and what was important to her.

“We laughed at the baking disasters we’d both seen on social media and slowly, her heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate and panic all improved and she felt much better.

“Her tests showed no cardiac or respiratory cause. We arranged for her to be followed up by her GP and were reminded how compassion, empathy, and understanding can make all the difference.

“However, it’s been a real spectrum of attitudes. From this severely panicked patient, to elderly patients revealing they are continuing to have their hair cut by a hairdresser.”

It must be professionally frustrating to witness such examples, potentially putting yourself and others who are vulnerable at risk.

It’s been a stressful period for everyone with obstacles presenting themselves daily. Juggling her vital work and important study time can only be testing for Rachael.

She said: “The biggest challenge for me personally has been settling into this hybrid role as still a student with things to learn before qualification, but also a paid member of the team.

“As a healthcare professional, you can clearly see how what people read and watch online can affect how they access services.

“And, their day to day behaviours that may impact upon not just them, but others. Managing people’s fears and expectations is something that has been really difficult to navigate.”

We don’t know, but can try to imagine, just how difficult this job is. Long hours, rude people, and that’s not to mention the political side of things.

Rachael Palmer joined the frontline NHS workers in April and will be a part of the team until the end of July

Throw a global pandemic into the situation and it’s no wonder we’ve been proud to shout about the NHS as a country.

That hard work must be eased slightly when you’ve helped somebody, like in the example Rachael gave at the start.

But what else does she find rewarding? She said: “Seeing how the knowledge and skills developed over the course of my training can be used to make a difference.

“As Plymouth student nurses we complete seven different placements in a huge variety of settings. It can feel like changing jobs three times a year.

“There’s a sense of imposter syndrome, when you near the end of your course and you cannot believe you’ll soon be the registered nurse making clinical decisions, but here you are.

“Those 2300 hours of clinical learning go a long way. I couldn’t be prouder to be qualifying as an RN and joining the global frontline during the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

“I feel it’s critical for the public to know that globally the investment in nurses, doctors, midwives and other vital health workers is much lower than assumed.

“COVID-19 is putting a spotlight on both the vital role of the world’s health workforce in fighting against outbreaks, but also sustaining non-COVID-19 related health services to ensure other deadly diseases don’t go undiagnosed and untreated.

“I hope this attention is now actioned into worldwide support for their physical and mental wellbeing so they are better equipped to do their jobs.”

Outside of her shifts, Rachael is still chairing the Plymouth branch of Students for Global Health, a registered charity and network of students across the UK working to tackle global and local health inequalities through education, advocacy and community action.




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