‘All we’ve ever known is Covid’: A follow-up study with newly qualified nurses who worked as student nurses during the pandemic
Aims and objectives: To explore the experiences of nursing students in England who had worked through the first wave and transitioned to qualification in the ongoing pandemic. Background: Experiences of health professionals and student nurses during the pandemic are now well documented, but transition of students to qualification is less well understood. In Summer 2020 we interviewed 16 student nurses who had worked as health care assistants on paid extended placements as part of the Covid-19 response in the East of England, finding surprisingly positive experiences, including perceived heightened preparedness for qualification. A year later we re-interviewed 12 participants from the original study to hear about transitioning to qualification during the ongoing pandemic. This study provides novel insights into their experiences. Design: A qualitative study design was used. Methods: 12 newly qualified nurses who had participated in the original study took part in qualitative, online interviews where they shared their experiences of working and transitioning to qualification during the ongoing pandemic since we spoke to them a year earlier. The data was analysed using thematic analysis. COREQ guidelines were used in developing and reporting this study. Results: 3 themes were identified. Constant change: in the clinical environment and arising out of the transition to newly qualified nurse, mental health and well-being, and reflecting on the past to learn for the future. Conclusions: Participants experienced a unique transition to qualification. The perceived heightened preparedness for qualification that participants who had worked as students during the first wave of the pandemic had become a reality, ameliorating some of the known effects of transition. However, increased expectations and added responsibilities in extremely busy, fluctuating clinical environments with minimal support add weight to calls for mandatory preceptorship programmes. While heightened resilience was evident, provision of ongoing mental health and well-being support is strongly recommended. Relevance to Clinical Practice: We need a partnership approach with nurse educators and practice colleagues which ensures preparation for qualified practice is appropriate. If we do not effectively prepare students for qualified nurse posts, patient care will almost certainly be compromised.