Working for the NHS During a Pandemic – An Interview With Alex Munro

Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash

On the 23rd of March, Boris Johnson announced the UK would go into lockdown. Shops were to close, events and gatherings were to be put on hold, and the already struggling NHS were about to be put under even more pressure.

In today’s blog post, it gives me great pleasure to introduce Paediatric Nursing Assistant NHS worker, Alex Munro…

“Hiya lovely people, I’d like to introduce myself to the readers of Gwen’s blog! My name is Alex, I am 22 years old and I’m an aspiring Paediatric Nurse!

In September 2020 I will begin studying Children’s Nursing at university. In the meantime, I work part time as a paediatric nursing assistant on a surgical ward in my local trust hospital. I would love to inspire and give an insight to what is like as a student and working in this profession, especially during this pandemic. “

1. What made you decide to go into the healthcare profession?

“I had no intention of becoming a nurse until the beginning of 2019. But, it’s something that has always been in the back of my mind. That main reason being, my brother, who I have been a carer for since I was 7. My brother suffered a birth injury, resulting in severe brain damage and requires 24/7 medical care due to his complex needs. I grew up as a young carer who spent most of my childhood in the hospital. It wasn’t until he had his gastrostomy at 18 months – a tiny tube which is placed in the stomach for feeds, as his swallow was unsafe.

At age 3, he had his tracheostomy inserted; an opening created at the front of the neck so a tube can be inserted into the windpipe (trachea) to help with breathing. This was because he used to pool his secretions which would block his airway.

This pretty much saved his life and since then, my mum has done and continues to do an amazing job to keep him away from hospital. The last admission was 4 years ago, and he is still going strong and is turning a big 16 this year! He is certainly the light of my life and inspires me every day.  

Growing up, my family would always call me ‘Nurse Alex’ and I knew from a young age I wanted to work with children with complex needs.

After finishing school I interviewed for health and social care as well as art and design, at a college. That summer, my brother was in hospital and really poorly, this clarified at the time that I wanted to keep my personal life separate from my work life.

I chose art and design and went on to study photography at degree level, graduating just before I turned 21. I was never 100% sure where it would take me, but I was optimistic. I decided to go travelling on my own around Asia afterwards, yet I returned without a passion to pursue a career in photography and I felt like a complete failure. At the time, it felt like a mid-life crisis at the age of 22, although it may seem ridiculous. 

I spent the beginning of the year reevaluating my life, not feeling like I had purpose. One day, something just clicked, and I decided that I would redirect my career and become a paediatric nurse. It felt so right, and I’ve not looked back ever since!

In order to get onto Children’s nursing at degree level you need to obtain all distinctions, this is very challenging as I do not consider myself academically clever at all but with determination I did it and I will be going to university in September.

Whilst applying for courses last year I also applied for a nursing assistant role in the hospital, it was a full-time job and it was a backup in case I didn’t get on the access course. The sister on the ward was very accommodating and in October (2019) I began working there part time, alongside studying at college.

I was fairly familiar prior to doing this job with what it entails to be a good nurse, I’ve seen amazing nurses and health care professionals all my life – from in hospitals, hospices, to community nurses. I also know what it feels like to be on the other side as a family with an unwell patient.

It has all led me to want to become a nurse who can understand, empathise and care for patients and families. Most importantly, I want to give back to the people who ultimately gave myself and my family the greatest gift of all for so many years – my brother.”

2. What has it been like working during a pandemic?

“Working in a hospital during a pandemic has been strange to say the least, it has been challenging yet rewarding. A big mixture of feelings and emotions. As children have not been as badly affected by COVID-19 in comparison to adults, our hospital has been able to cope.

In terms of bed space and coping with patient load, it has been okay. As I work on a surgical ward, all the elective surgeries were cancelled, resulting in the ward being abnormally quiet. Although we are not treating COVID-19 patients on my ward, the atmosphere has changed. Everyone is uneasy and scared, staff are coming to work without the option of social distancing as it is impossible to be a nurse and not be hands on with patients.

We are all worried about bringing home any infections home to our loved ones. Some nurses, like myself, have moved away from their loved ones just to shield those who may be vulnerable. Families of patients are worried about being in hospital during this time, which is understandable, but reassurance and positivity has been key.

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash
Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

Hospitals are the cleanest place to be in and this is what reassures me and what helps ease the worries from families and patients.  Little changes sometimes have the biggest effects, such as restrictions on visitors, i.e. 1 person at the bed space, who can swap at the door with 1 other person. Some new mums who have never been alone with their new born baby partner may struggle with this concept.

These are the obstacles that are faced with real people, real feelings and emotions. Although all nurses are going through all different things, everyone is so strong, positive, supportive and amazing! I may not be in the front line but we have all been affected in one way or another, sometimes I think about what it may be like on a COVID-19 ward in the adult hospital next door and just hope everyone is coping. They are the real life heroes in all of this, alongside people working in care homes.”

3. What does a typical day in the life look like for you? What does your job entail?

“My role as a nursing assistant is to support the nurse I am working with and the patients I am looking after that day, ultimately make the day go smoother and easier for both.

A typical day as a NA is very busy and jam packed. The complete opposite to my normal day to day outside of working. Outside of work I enjoy a chilled laid back life style that consists of: relaxing, rewinding, reading, art and spending time with family, friends and my boyfriend.  

A normal day where I have a 12.5 hour shift is an early wakeup call at 5:30am. Side note, I am not a morning person; I am definitely a night owl!

Hair is chucked up in a bun, a little bit of makeup to make myself seem more awake than I am, then in for work for a 7:30am start. We then have handover; we begin the day by huddling in our little staff room ready to listen to what we may face that day.

The NIC from the previous shift will go through an overall handover of all the patients on the ward and important information we may need to know. Once that has finished, we are allocated to patients that we look after for the day. As a NA on my ward, I am always assigned to a registered nurse. We then go to the station to find the nurse who had our allocated patients the previous shift to have an in-depth handover.

Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash
Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

The morning is always the most hectic part of the day, there is doctors/surgeons/anaesthetists on the ward giving us new plans or reviews on each patient. The day can consist of various different things, like getting patients ready for theatre, taking patients down to theatre, x-rays, ultrasounds, and scans. Doing feeds, personal cares, hourly pump readings, removing cannulars, assisting bowel wash out, aspirating NG tubes and many more!

Most importantly independent observations with PEWS, this is vital on keeping an eye on patient’s oxygen levels, heart rate, temperature, etc. The day is none stop and I will be running around making sure I can do anything and everything that the patient or nurse may require.

The day usually flies by and at around 18:00, we ensure all paperwork is up to date before night staff arrive at 19:30 for handover. Before finishing at 20:00, I like to go around to the patients I’ve cared for during the day, whcih I think is important after building up a rapport with them throughout the day. The job is fast-paced, challenging but so rewarding, I enjoy working with children, babies, teenagers. And there’s certainly not many jobs where you can cuddle cute little babies and put smiles on children’s faces!”

4. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the profession?

“DO IT! It’s never too late to change career paths or change your mind on what you want to do. It’s okay to feel unsure and uncertain about things. I didn’t think 2 years ago I would be going back to education and pursuing a career in nursing! It’s scary but it will be worth it. It’s okay to have bad days, days at home where you want to stay in bed and stuff your face all day, that is how the job may make you feel after 3 consecutive shifts! (It sure does make me feel like that) 

The job is certainly not for the faint-hearted, if you do not like blood or being vomited on or changing nappies or dealing with screaming babies all through a night shift, it may not be for you! However, there are many perks. If you enjoy caring, looking after, being compassionate and spending time with children 100% go for it! It is so rewarding watching children leave the ward going home healthier and happier, and you are part of that process!”

5. What are your plans going forward?

“I will start university for the September cohort which is located in the city I live in so I will be staying at home and hopefully have placements in the trust I work in now as that is where I want to work in the future.

I will sadly be leaving my current NA job in August to go on the bank; this will enable me to pick up shifts during study weeks at university. As the nature of the degree course with placements it’s impossible to stay part time alongside working full time on placements. I’m so happy to get started and I cannot wait for 3 years’ time when I’ll become a registered nurse!”

Thank you to Alex for taking time out to give an insight into the life of an NA during such a heightened time. Alex runs her own nursing diaries blog on Instagram which can be found by clicking here or searching @nursing_diariess.

Ciao for now x

Posted by

Wellbeing writer, host for The Inspired Narrative podcast and mental health support worker.

One thought on “Working for the NHS During a Pandemic – An Interview With Alex Munro

  1. Alex will be a wonderful Nurse when she qualifies, for she is much needed. This is obvious from the enthusiasm she shows in the course of her work as a Nursing Assistant. Having been her brothers carer for so many years did not put her off, just boosted her inner strengths and stamina. May she go on nursing, caring and aiding in the curing of many, many young people in years to come. May The Gods look down and smile on her.


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