Student Nurses on the Frontline – A Day in the Life

Aoife McMahon

Nurses are being worn out by the sudden high volume of work.

Student nurses across all of Ireland are being called to the front-line to put their skills to good use during this unprecedented Coronavirus pandemic.

Despite not having their full qualifications, student nurses are providing an essential service in all areas of the healthcare system.  

Kate Brillantes is just one of the many who have been working tirelessly during these last few weeks. Like a lot of her friends and classmates, Brillantes answered the calls from agencies looking for staff and got straight to work right in the thick of the crisis.

20-year-old Brillantes is currently in her 3rd year studying Nursing in Trinity College Dublin. She says working through these trying times gives her “a huge sense of achievement” and makes her feel that she’s doing something worthwhile.

Brillantes is working in Meath Community Unit, a nursing home in Dublin city. She is employed as a healthcare assistant which she says is “basically like a nurse but you can’t deal with medication.” Student nurses have been asked to work in health care services all around the country and Brillantes said nursing homes are struggling without enough staff.

There are 15 patients on Brillantes’ ward, who are all in the Nursing home for similar reasons, most because there is no one else to take care of them and they need constant looking after. She is concerned as everyone on her ward is considered extremely high risk if they catch Coronavirus. 

Working in the healthcare industry can be intimidating for the student nurses but Brillantes said, “the support from the rest of the staff is making it an easier process.” Everything must be done in teams of two, so while her job “isn’t too chaotic”, they are seriously lacking staff, and this puts pressure on everyone, she says.

There is also a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the staff have to do everything they can not to waste it. This means that they can’t do some proper procedures as they must conserve their masks and gowns.

The workers are also timed in each room they enter and Brillantes said she doesn’t have enough time to spend with the patients to help them feel less scared and more comfortable.

Brillantes first came into contact with someone who had the virus two weeks ago. She was tending to an elderly woman who had developed a cough and had to get tested.

In that time, Brillantes was transferred to a different ward within the same facility. Brillantes asked about the woman a week later and was surprised to find out she had tested positive for Covid-19.  Brillantes said, “I was just shocked that they hadn’t told me and that I had to ask them first.”

While Brillantes said it is expected that healthcare workers will meet the virus at some stage and she was wearing correct PPE when tending to the woman, she wishes they would tell the staff if they have been in contact so they can take the necessary extra precautions. 

Since then, two more patients have started showing symptoms and are awaiting tests. The employees are being extra cautious around these patients and ensuring they are wearing full PPE at all times when in contact with them. 

Brillantes said she isn’t too worried about getting the virus herself but is terrified she will get it and pass it on to one of the patients in the nursing home who wouldn’t be as able to fight the infection as easily as she would. Brillantes expressed concerned that she could contract the virus without showing symptoms so she would continue to work, and the virus could be passed onto the patients with weak immune systems. 

Both of Brillantes’ parents are also working in the healthcare industry, but their workplaces have yet to see anyone test positive for Covid-19. When her parents learned that Brillantes had been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, they were naturally concerned. 

When she returns from a long day or night at work, Brillantes is taking special measures to keep her own family safe. She strips down as soon as she gets in the door and her mam takes her clothes out to the garden to allow them to air for about an hour before putting them into the washing machine. Brillantes immediately gets into a hot shower.

While Brillantes is doing this work independent of her college, Trinity have been in contact saying anyone working in the healthcare industry during the pandemic can use this time in as their placement hours which is a mandatory part of her degree.

Despite this, Brillantes said everyone is still confused as to what is going on with her course. She said like nearly every student in Ireland, there is a sense of uncertainty of what is happening with course assessment and that she is still unsure about what is going on.

On top of all the time Brillantes spends working in Meath Community Unit, she has a lot of college work to try and get through.

She is under pressure to keep up and while some of her exams have been switched to assignments, a few of her modules still require her to take exams in their subjects. Brillantes is finding this especially tough as she works a lot of nights and needs to sleep through the day as she is exhausted. 

Despite her own challenges, it is the patients Brillantes feels sorry for. None of them are allowed any visitors and they have had to cancel their daily activities as there is such a high risk that they will infect each other.

The patients are lonely and confused, most of them don’t understand why all the employees are dressed in full PPE and why they have to be quick in their rooms. Brillantes said, “I can see it all on their faces, it’s so heart-breaking.” 

Aoife McMahon

Image Credit: Andrew Conway