Getting through the challenges of the pandemic and making a difference

It is hard to put into words just how proud we are of all of our graduates who go out into the world and make a difference. But over the last year, we’ve been quite overwhelmed by stories of graduates who have used the skills and experience they have gained at QMU to navigate the difficult pathway through the pandemic whilst helping individuals, organisations and our country in the recovery process.

In the spring of 2020, our School of Health Sciences worked at breakneck speed to prepare hundreds of healthcare students to take up roles in the NHS. Not only were our graduates filling vital professional positions in the NHS, often their presence helped free up more experienced NHS personnel to transfer into frontline roles, better equipping the NHS to deal with the increased pressure on essential services.

Time and time again, we hear students, from both our School of Health Sciences and other academic areas of the University, confirm how well prepared they felt for the challenges that lay ahead, despite the fact they entered the workforce at one of the most difficult times in history. In this feature, some of our recent graduates give us a small insight into their experience of working throughout the pandemic.

Evelyn takes up speech and language therapist role at the Royal Berkshire Hospital

Evelyn Duindam began her first year working as an acute speech and language therapist at the peak of the pandemic, in the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. She explained: “QMU’s academics helped me prepare for this role, as well as supporting me in my application process, so I was able to become fully incorporated into the hospital’s Speech and Language Therapy team.

“I assessed and supported many patients diagnosed with COVID, ranging from minor complications all the way to complex Intensive Care Unit step-downs where patients are moved from ICU to the general medical wards for further rehabilitation. I also conducted mental capacity assessments - all while wearing full PPE.

“It’s been an incredibly challenging year but one that QMU prepared me well for. It’s been demanding, emotional, rewarding and inspirational to be part of such an impressive, hardworking NHS team during a time where healthcare was at epicentre of the pandemic. I was lucky to be able to contribute to the NHS during such unprecedented times, wherein I assessed patients’ swallows, speech, and communication. In particular, I had to adjust to working in full PPE when conducting both communication and speech assessments on noisy wards – not an easy or comfortable task!

“I am really pleased that I made the choice to study Speech and Language Therapy as it’s such a rewarding career, and I’m proud that I’ve been able to play a part in supporting the UK’s recovery from COVID-19.”

Sarah begins her nursing career in London

Sarah Holligan secured a position as a nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in central London before reaching her 2020 graduation date. She explained: “We were amongst the group of healthcare students who were called upon to assist the NHS in dealing with the pandemic. Our final few months at university were accelerated as QMU’s nursing team helped us quickly prepare to move swiftly into positions in the NHS.”

Sarah is in a rotational post for 18 months within the London trust, which started with six months on the oncology ward, followed by six months in gynaecology. Sarah is now in the Assisted Conception Unit where she will remain once she has completed her rotation.

The first part of the rotation was the most directly affected by the pandemic. The oncology ward became a COVID ward. The days were long, the work was very demanding, and the learning curve was steep. Anti-vaccine protesters were outside the hospital as difficult shifts ended. However, Sarah confirmed that the team spirit and support from her new workmates was remarkable.

Aside from patients and staff contracting COVID, Sarah also became unwell with the virus. She was off for several weeks but was keen to get back to work.

Sarah said: “The last year since graduating from QMU has been harder than I ever imagined, but I am extremely proud to be a nurse and to have graduated from QMU."

Navigating the first year as secondary teacher during the pandemic

It's not just healthcare graduates who have had to navigate an unusual transition from university to professional life. How would you fancy trying to learn the ropes as a new secondary school teacher during lockdown?

 Ryan Lee completed a BSc Nutrition at QMU before progressed to our PDGD Home Economics (Secondary). He said: “I was lucky to get a job straight away as a home economics teacher at Musselburgh Grammar School, but getting to grips with the first year of teaching and supporting young people’s development during a pandemic has been a challenge.

“However, there are key elements that were instilled in me at QMU - resilience, rising to a challenge, working as part of a team and understanding the importance of developing strong communication skills – all of these things have definitely helped me throughout this last year or so. QMU also encouraged me to develop a positive, can-do attitude which helps you deal with anything.

“It’s certainly a privilege to teach home economics in the 21st century - every day is different and it’s great to see the impact that my subject is having on young people. It's a really enjoyable and rewarding career and when I see the young people progress with each lesson, I know I made the right choice to pursue a role as a teacher of home economics.”

Professor Fiona Coutts, Dean of the School of Health Sciences at QMU, said: “It has been reassuring and inspiring to hear how our students have thrived under immense pressure, and worked so hard to help others during the very early stages of their careers. They have been taught well to achieve so much in exceptional circumstances.