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MDX Nursing and Midwifery students tell their stories from the crisis frontline

Former BBC correspondent in Afghanistan Bahaar Joya finds nursing a chance to heal, while mental health nursing student Jade Willimott calls for public to get behind NHS staff

One hundred days after the first COVID-19 cases contracted in the UK were reported, MDX student nurses and midwives speak about their experiences of the outbreak.

MDX has around 500 nursing and midwifery students who have been working through the crisis on placement, opted in to the government's emergency register to make themselves available to care for COVID-19 patients, or have worked in their professional capacities as Health Care Assistants or in other roles in NHS Trusts.

Five cohorts of Apprenticeship Trainee Nursing Associates, including one that started on 16th March just before lockdown, have worked through the pandemic alongside studying and completing assessments. "They have worked tirelessly under tremendous pressure, and continue to do so - they have been outstanding" says Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing Cariona Flaherty.

Second year Adult nursing student Bahaar Joya retrained as a nurse after a career in journalism in her native Afghanistan. She's been working through the crisis as a theatre nurse at the Royal Free Hospital, and has taken part in a documentary describing her experiences for Radio Free Europe.

At the start of the outbreak she was emailed about what she wanted to do with her placement. "I had the option to pause and continue when the crisis was over," she says. "But when I came back to the theatres and witnessed patients with COVID-19 and how the staff were struggling to cope with the situation, I remembered the main reason why I chose this profession".

"I was a journalist for more than 10 years mainly reporting from Afghanistan for the BBC's Persian service and there I saw and experienced countless deaths and suffering due to war. At that time I was helpless. By choosing the nursing profession here, I wanted to heal those wounds and see people getting better. So I decided this is the time which people and my colleagues at the NHS need me the most".

Two and half months on, she says, the atmosphere in hospital is calmer. She and her course mates are back at home, preparing for exams. "I was very glad I was part of these historic events," Bahaar says. "We learned how to cope under pressure. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for learning".

"I feel more powerful in this profession and every day when I go to work and see my patients are feeling better, it gives me the strength to work with more energy".

Third year midwifery student Kimberley Boothe decided to opt in, partly because as a mature student she didn't feel she should face any delay to her degree. By joining the frontline, "I felt that I could have a impact on women's care and the midwives' work load as many of our colleagues have been so badly affected by this virus," she says.

"The thing that stands out the most at the moment is the care and attention everyone is displaying" Kimberley adds. "We have daily meetings called huddles where we are able to do a quick mental health check on each other and make sure everyone feels supported and loved. This has been a great help for everyone, sharing the load and being a support for each other in these uncertain times".

First year Mental Health nursing student Jade Willimott contributed to a video for Dazed, speaking about the tragic death from the virus of MDX course mate Ade Raymond, who also worked as an HCA for Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust. "He passed away as a result of COVID-19. The same night that he passed, there were healthcare workers out there working on the frontline without sufficient PPE," she said.

While she and her fellow students found the Thursday evening clapping for the NHS "uplifting", she called on the British public to do more in a letter to Dazed. "We need you to sign the petitions to scrap tuition fees for past, present and future student nurses and midwives, sign the petitions to raise NHS wages, increase funding, demand the correct amount of PPE for key workers". By the time she graduates in 2022, she calculates she will have worked 2300 unpaid hours of placement and have accumulated nearly £60,000 worth of debt. "We understood what we were getting into when we became student nurses, we knew the expense. If we all let that be a deterrent – where would our NHS be?" she wrote.

In the early days of the outbreak, second year Adult nursing student Sandra B said she was enjoying her placement in A&E at the Whittington Hospital, which involved triaging patients, but finding it "very stressful. The guidance changes every day. All you can do is help people and hope you don’t get the virus".

Now having finished the placement, she reflects, "I was able to learn a lot about acute medical emergencies, and also to participate in major emergencies". The experience has helped her decide what type of nursing she wants to go into at the end of her course.

Second year Adult nursing student Mihaela Budi, working with Sandra at the Whittington A&E, said her fellow staff "were very supportive, very helpful, although the situation was critical".

Wearing PPE she said, "it's very hot, very painful, especially that mask which you have to wear for a long period of time.

"I was nervous, I was excited - I had all these feelings. I wanted to see what was happening and be there to help. It's been a very great experience to help in this crisis - I can't find the words to describe it".

Head of the School of Health and Education, Professor Carmel Clancy says: “Given the prevalence and spread of the virus, all students are taking risks on our behalf. While we did not anticipate anything less, we are so grateful for the outstanding contribution they are offering".

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