"We had no choice but to firm the reality"
Those wanting to be student nurses must have a lot of motivation, selflessness and determination.
Working in the medical industry means that professionals don’t get the privilege of being sheltered from things like COVID-19. This is the same for trainees.
For many people across the globe, the pandemic was an era of boredom. But gingerly cast your mind back.
Trapped at home, making iced coffee, and desperately waiting for some good news – it felt like life paused.
But not for professional or British Asian student nurses. They braved the front lines in the battle against COVID-19.
There has never been a time in the modern era when nurses have been so vital.
The UK public was reliant on healthcare workers to shepherd them through the storm. During this time, NHS workers were, and rightly so, seen as heroes.
Remember clapping outside your front door on a Thursday?
Despite the appreciation of nurses during COVID-19, some people are unaware of the process of becoming a nurse.
Becoming a doctor is broadly recognised but being a student nurse comes with a lot of baggage too.
People may also not be informed about the sacrifices made by student nurses during the pandemic.
Dr David Barrett, Reader in Nursing at the University of Hull highlights this:
“The pressures on nursing students were substantial…
“…a mixture of academic expectation, assessment of practice competence and personal commitments, resulting in high prevalence of stress and anxiety.”
Young people exposed themselves to a deadly virus despite having less training than other cohorts.
Campus life halted but student nurses did not have the option to stop their hands-on studies.
But as vital as the roles of these key workers were, what is it actually like for British Asians in this environment?
Of course, it takes a lot of sacrifices, application and skill, but how difficult is it for this next generation of medical experts?
DESIblitz looks into the reality of the industry with words from the nurses in training themselves.
Why Choose Nursing?
Choosing a career path for many people is a daunting task.
One minute you are comfortable in secondary school, and the next, you are aged 18. You are then told to pick a career which could impact the rest of your life.
There are so many factors to consider as well. Whether it is money, work-life balance, or creative freedom, many people have a criteria for potential careers.
This goes the same for nursing. But, there is sometimes a viewpoint that nursing is less balanced than other occupations.
Therefore, choosing to become a nurse is often questioned. 20-year-old child nursing student Zahra Azim sheds some light on why she chose to get into nursing:
“To be honest, I always knew I wanted to work with children and their development.
“I find it so important that the next generation of kids have a solid start to their lives.
“I thought about becoming a teacher, but I prefer healthcare, and I wanted to help sick kids have a chance of living a normal and healthy life.
“You can build relationships being a nurse in a way that just isn’t possible if you’re a doctor.”
“So, I want to be there for sick children and nurse them back to health – even if it is just stitching a cut. Seeing children leaving the ward with a smile is why I chose to nurse.”
Similarly, student nurse Karandeep Mander who is in her second year, explains her reasons:
“My baba was always in and out of hospitals before he passed away.
“We also had district nurses who came to our house to look after him.
“I became familiar with the hospital environment and how nurses went about their work.
“Seeing the care they gave to my baba made me realise that I also want to make a difference to others.
“I want to make patients feel comfortable, assured, and valued in their care.”
Nursing is a vocation. It is not a career path for those wanting a simple paycheck; instead, it is for people with a calling to help others.
Carson Newman University even notes that “nursing is one of the most professionally, personally and spiritually rewarding careers there is.”
In all honesty, this notion points out the honour of becoming a nurse. It is also what sets nursing apart from many other career paths.
The Mental Health Aspect
In modern society, talking about mental health is widespread and encouraged.
Older generations may have been taught to take hardships as they come and just move on.
However, things have changed and people are more inclined to open up and share their problems.
Having discussions about mental health issues removes the stigmas attached to different conditions like anxiety or depression.
People with poor mental health must be assured they are not alone in having certain feelings. The saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” is applicable here.
Everyone must have a platform to share their experiences so they do not feel alone in their struggles.
For nurses, this concept is no different. In a hospital environment, there are a lot of opportunities to experience events which will have an inevitable impact on mental health.
British Asian student nurse, Karandeep Mander, talks about her early struggles with anxiety during work placements:
“I had never experienced anxiety like when I came to university.
“When I started my adult nursing, I became anxious, had low moods and suffered from overwhelming stress.
“The long hours of my placements and the added pressure of exams and coursework made it so hard. I didn’t know how to deal with it all.
“My first placement was during COVID-19, and I was so nervous. The team at the hospital were so busy that I felt almost neglected.
“I remember one day I called in sick and talked about my anxiety to the sister of the ward. She told me I couldn’t miss work because ‘I didn’t feel like it’.
“I had so many breakdowns before that day; the placement was like the worst thing I could think of.
“The following two placements were also hard for me. Before every placement, I seem to get sick, and it really affects my performance.
“The thought of working as a nurse during this time led me to be severely anxious, it was so difficult.”
“For a year and a half, I really thought nursing wasn’t for me. This shocked me because being a nurse is all I have ever wanted to be.
“I thought my anxiety was not expected and no one would care because the team at my first placement seemed to not care at all.
“This was until my most recent placement. Then, my mentor ensured it was an educational experience, and I got really stuck into my work.
“She understood I suffered from anxiety and was very compassionate towards me. She made me feel comfortable, and I looked forward to going to work every day.
“I think the first placement shocked me because it was a toxic environment. I don’t know whether it was COVID stress, but that ward really wasn’t for me.
“On the whole, I don’t feel student nurses get as much support as they need.
“During COVID, we were dumped into a ward and told to learn, but you can’t underestimate how hard that was.
“I am happy I persisted, but there needs to be drastic changes to the way nurses are supported.
“Even if we get access to a therapist or the welfare team at the university stays in regular contact, it will help so much.
“I think mental health in nursing needs to be discussed more, and I really do hope support systems get better.”
The reality of becoming a nurse is quite taxing and as Karandeep mentions, her feelings are shared by others in similar positions.
But, this is not talked about enough within the medical world.
Combine workplace politics and distressing scenes such as death can have a really negative impact on someone’s mental health.
However, some organisations are supporting those who need support or guidance:
For the UK and the world, the COVID-19 pandemic was relentless with uncertainty.
The outside world became a mirage that we could only begin to experience when visiting a local supermarket.
For nurses, Coronavirus became a war they had to endure. From fighting for PPE to dealing with an overwhelming influx of patients.
As Zahra explains, the impact of COVID-19 severely affected her life as a student nurse:
“We couldn’t get on campus to do skills sessions, so we went into placement without knowing what to expect.
“It didn’t help that the nurses in the wards didn’t know we missed these sessions, so they expected us to know more.
“We also had placements cancelled, meaning the extra hours for the second and third year.
“My first placement was reduced from 38 hours to 23 hours, and I had to make the difference in my second year.
“Adding on to that, we had to work with COVID-positive patients.”
“It was scary. We were not trained enough to deal with the potential danger we encountered every day.
“We had no choice but to firm the reality. You could only back out if you were high risk and then got approval from ward managers.”
The threat of the pandemic was a harsh reality that nurses had to face daily.
On top of this, the UK faced a national nurse shortage. Some hospital staff contracted the virus and so could not get into work.
The problem of the nurse shortage was deep-rooted as the UK fell way below the EU average of newly qualified nurses.
Zahra emotionally explains the toll this took on student nurses as they were barely qualified but had to face such a substantial threat without proper training.
This undoubtedly affected many student nurses. Mental health charity, Mind, even notes:
“Nine in ten nurses are feeling more stressed and anxious than usual. A third of 3,500 respondents said their mental health was ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.”
It was a testing time for all, especially those in the healthcare service.
Student Nursing As a British Asian
As per NHS statistics, around 30% of all medical staff are from an Asian background.
So, what are the perks of being a British Asian student nurse? Trainee *Sara Khan talks about her experiences so far:
“I think it is incredible that I can help interpret for South Asian people who can’t speak English properly.
“It also works the other way, so I have been able to interpret what a doctor says to non-English speakers.
“In my experience, I have also found that elderly South Asian people appreciate having a nurse they can properly speak to without a language barrier.
“We had one elderly patient from a Pakistani background. We built a really lovely relationship – she kept asking specifically for me.
“My Urdu isn’t the best, but I am sure she appreciated the effort!
“The patients must understand what is happening, and I am very grateful I can be helpful to the older Desi generation.”
The comfort of patients is something that nurses look to ensure.
Zainab Hussain, a 20-year-old student nurse from Birmingham, adds:
“As nurses, we must place our patients at the heart of our care and treat them with kindness.
“My priority is to always put patients first so they can feel at ease, and we can develop better relationships.”
“I love talking to the patients. When they are going through a hard time, sometimes having someone there to talk to can make the difference.”
Zahra Azim also reveals:
“Being exposed to different ethnic groups helps us understands patterns.
“For example, diabetes within the South Asian community is a concerning pattern. And we can see that when working in the wards.
“We see other consistencies such as members of the Afro-Caribbean community being diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia.
“If we can identify these regular occurrences, we know what needs to change within our communities to improve overall health.”
From briding the language barriers to helping more ethnic minority groups, being a British Asian student nurse sounds promising.
Whilst the demands of the job are present, sacrificing a little to help a lot of people is much more satisfying for these students.
Is it All Worth it?
Many students find they are thrown into the deep end and find it hard to adjust.
But being a nurse is never going to be easy. Facing death and disease is part and parcel of the job.
It is a parallel reality for doctors. In most cases, the difference is that doctors have much larger earning potential and greater control over what happens to the patients.
So, after all the trials and tribulations that come with being a student nurse – is it all worth it?
*Parveen Kaur talks about a fulfilling experience from one of her placements:
“A male patient came in, and he got diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
“In my spare time, I would go to him and have general conversations about life.
“I needed to make sure he wasn’t feeling lonely, and because of COVID, he could not have any visitors.
“On his last day, he handed me a letter, and I teared up when I read it.
“He explained the effects of his cancer, how much he enjoyed my company and he said such nice things and wished me all the best.
“He said I helped him fight the loneliness and made him smile at such a dark time.”
“That’s why I do nursing. Through the fatigue and stress, going home at the end of the day and knowing I have made a difference is the best thing.
“Our job isn’t easy, but when a patient is discharged, and you know you have done everything you can to make it easier for them, that is when all the difficult parts are worth it!”
Similar to Parveen, other student nurses feel the same warm feeling when they get close to patients.
Highlighted throughout our conversations with these women is how the main goal of the job is to provide a safe and comforting place for patients.
They want to ensure that each person is given the proper care and attention, no matter if it means working long hours or not.
Student nursing is a tough degree, and every student is forced to adopt great resilience.
On top of academic pressures, every student nurse must complete demanding placements.
Along with the stress, however, comes attributes which will put student nurses in good stead for the future.
Upon qualifying, their job will not be easy. If anything, the added responsibility of being qualified will result in more pressure.
But the students would have already learned grit, resilience, patience, discipline, and empathy.
These attributes are all that make nurses great. Overall, student nurses deserve to be celebrated.
They put in long hours of unpaid placements and make a difference within their wards. It is a vocation worth appreciating and the students deserve recognition.