THE personal stories of young people working as healthcare workers at the frontline during COVID-19 highlights their dedication and commitment.
Since lockdown Bethan Millar from Randalstown, who is a student at Northern Regional College in Magherafelt, has been working six days a week, using her day off to catch up on coursework for her Level 4 Diploma in Healthcare Practice.
She admits that it can be a struggle to put thoughts of work and sick patients out of her head when she finishes her shift but despite the long hours and challenging conditions, there is nowhere else she would rather be.
“I work as a nursing assistant in the respiratory/care of the elderly ward at Antrim Area Hospital which is COVID positive,” she explained.
“I’ve also been helping out at COVID centres across Northern Ireland but have been mainly based in Ballymena.
“It is difficult but I'm so proud of the way we work as a team, always trying to stay as positive as possible for our patients.”
As well as the emotional strain, it is also a challenging environment to work in.
“On a normal day, I wear full PPE, including the mask, for a 12-hour shift,” said Bethan.
“I get hot, sweaty, dehydrated and tired, and my skin is breaking out but despite all these challenges, there is nowhere else on this earth that I’d rather be.
“Knowing that we are helping improve a patient's day makes it all worthwhile.
“I feel like I have achieved something, even if it’s just making a cup of tea or holding the hand of a palliative care patient to let them know that someone is there when their family can't be.
“The patients can be frightened, and I do my best to reassure them, but this can be difficult when they can’t see your smile because of the mask.”
Growing up, Bethan always knew she wanted to work in a caring profession and is delighted that she is now on track to achieve her dream.
This autumn, she plans to go to study nursing at university.
She already had A-Levels in Biology and Health and Social Care but Bethan felt the HNC Healthcare Practice course would be an ideal stepping stone and help make the transition to university easier.
“Going directly to university from school can be a big step but the Level 4 Healthcare Practice is good preparation,” she said.
“We had to do research and literature reviews as part of the course and I now feel a lot more confident about how I’ll cope with the workload at university.”
Working in the COVID ward during the pandemic has been a steep learning curve for Bethan, who has had to make some personal sacrifices.
With a younger brother considered to be at high risk, she moved out of the family home at the start of the lockdown to stay with other key workers in Antrim’s Dunsilly Hotel for a couple of weeks before going to live in Carrickfergus with an aunt who, as a respiratory nurse, is another key worker.
“At times, it can get very lonely, but I know I had to move away from home to protect others in my family.”
Like thousands of other students, Bethan had to get used to online learning overnight.
“We have coursework to submit so it is difficult not being in class but we are all in the same situation and our lecturers have been very supportive.
“It’s been incredibly difficult for everyone, but we’re nearly done now and I’m confident we’ll get through this.”
Health and Social Care lecturer, Eimear Lennon, who co-ordinates the Level 4 course, said she was very impressed the way Bethan and others in her class had stepped up.
“They deserve great credit for doing such a wonderful job in these very challenging times and stressful circumstances,” she said.
“They are a great inspiration to other young people thinking of going into a career in a caring profession.
“Bethan is such a thoughtful, kind and sincere young lady.
“She is great role model and has such a positive influence on others.”
Northern Regional College offers a range of Health and Social Care courses, from entry level to Foundation Degree. For further information, click on www.nrc.ac.uk