International Nurses Day 2021 - supporting student nurses through the pandemic and summarising a vision for future healthcare

views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham

“This past year has been challenging for all students across the world in a variety of ways, however, student nurses have had their own unique set of challenges.”

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“A Voice to Lead – a vision for future healthcare” is the theme for International Nurses’ Day 2021. This past year has been challenging for all students across the world in a variety of ways, however, student nurses have had their own unique set of challenges. At the University of Birmingham, the Nursing Society have worked tirelessly to lead and support student nurses throughout the pandemic. Hard work which received recognition through being awarded the “Ian King Society of the Year” and winning the “Outstanding Committed Member” award.

In 2019, the dropout rate for nursing was approximately 24%  highlighting the challenges faced before the Covid-19 outbreak. Since COVID-19, burnout within students has been more prominent than ever before, and with most committee members either deployed or shielding. The effects on student mental health have also been undeniable as well. Lack of interaction between student nurses outside of the online classroom has resulted in many students feeling isolated and lacking social support. In an effort to combat these issues, a scheme consisting of three initiatives was launched by NurseSoc to promote wellbeing and togetherness.

Firstly, the Parent Scheme matched new, less experienced students with senior students for advice. A scheme which also encouraged students to create an inter year group community amongst nurses.Tea and Talk sessions provide a safe space to air concerns and interact socially with other nursing students, whilst Walking Bubbles matched people on geographic location and course plan to facilitate 1:1 walks in line with COVID restrictions. These actions were developed with the intention of creating an inclusive, supportive, educational environment which also contributes to student retention. 

With students reporting a deficit in clinical exposure due to ward closures and student redeployment to essential areas, there was a need for further career education. This triggered the committee to organise talks from nurses in practice who would provide information on their speciality as well as tailored career guidance in succeeding at application. In addition, NurseSoc also ran supplementary talks from newly qualified nurses for third year students discussing the extra pressure faced in third year. 

For first year students adjusting to online learning, NurseSoc supplemented lectures with free of charge revision sessions and resources that were solely student led and yielded large numbers of attendees. The cultivation of these actions saw a shift in the purpose of the nursing society, from a premise previously based around social activity and face to face events, to an increase in social support, education, and community engagement - which we endeavour to continue beyond the months governed by COVID.

Our vision for future healthcare is broad, and whilst healthcare needs addressing globally, as a UK based society, the problems facing the UK are the most familiar to us. We are grateful for the positive recognition given to healthcare professionals and challenging the misperception of healthcare jobs being regarded as ‘simple’. Nurses globally have unintentionally inspired a generation and have underpinned a multidisciplinary fight against coronavirus, demonstrating the skill, resilience, and compassion necessary to save lives.

This courage has inspired more people to consider jobs within healthcare, evidenced by the increase in the number of nursing applicants by 32% in the UK. We therefore hope that future healthcare envisions safe staffing. An increase in graduates should fill some of the 38,000 staffing shortages across the UK which can actively improve the strain on healthcare professionals and improve patient safety.

Over the past 10 years nursing pay has not matched the increased cost of living and has left nurses requiring a 12.5% pay rise to meet these standards. This rise is necessary to recognise the multiplicity of intricate skills demonstrated by nurses and the value of their role within healthcare systems. With the nursing profession gaining more public acknowledgement and appreciation through the exposure of the pandemic, we hope that politicians adjust their focus and match this recognition until nursing pay finally reflects the responsibility and complexity of nursing, as well as the financial difficulties caused by improper pay. Whilst public appreciation is motivating, unfortunately, a round of applause simply cannot pay bills.

Finally, whilst the horizons of future healthcare look to be brighter than the ones witnessed in the last year, there will of course be long lasting effects. Increased personal protective equipment (PPE), improved infection control and telemedicine look to continue for a while longer. And whilst they work to protect professionals and the public, it seems as though phones, screens and PPE are the price we pay for safety at a cost of human interaction. However, despite the ever-growing physical barriers between us, the nursing profession has pulled together from all corners of the profession and supported one another through the worst of times. This resilience and interdependence is what we see as a positive lasting effect. We therefore believe that future healthcare professionals deserve more support for their wellbeing and mental health, as the saying goes ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup’.

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