Robert Gordon University study exploring health and social care students’ and graduates’ experiences of going into practice early during the Covid-19 pandemic

12 June 2020

In a blog to mark the research contribution of our members as part of the Council’s #unihealth campaign, researchers from the School of Nursing and Midwifery and the School of Health Sciences at Robert Gordon University have written a blog on their research on how healthcare students who have graduated early during the pandemic have experienced this period. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has placed significant demands on the NHS and social care sector. Since March 2020, as the epidemic escalated and the population was placed in ‘lockdown’, it was clear that creative solutions were required to support the health and social care workforce. One UK-wide policy action was to transition health and social care students ‘earlier than planned’ into professional practice. This included students from nursing and midwifery, allied health professions, social work and pharmacy. This unprecedented action means it is unknown how those early career professionals and students will cope emotionally, psychologically and physically during this crucial transition period of their careers. As researchers we were concerned to know how those students would fare at this time of high demand for their skills and knowledge, and who might find themselves working without the levels of support they would ordinarily expect to receive during this important transition period. On the basis of questions around these issues, our multi-disciplinary team of researchers drawn from across the Schools of Nursing and Midwifery, Health Sciences, Applied Social Sciences and Pharmacy and Life Sciences, responded to and were awarded a Covid-19-focused, rapid research call from Scotland’s Chief Scientist Office in April this year.

Our study will explore and characterise the resilience and mental wellbeing of our student and early graduate population during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has two aims:

  1. to gather critical insights of the experiences of health and social care students of their ‘earlier than planned’ transition into professional practice, and
  2. to find out what coping strategies those early entrants are using (or not using) at a time where extreme pressure on workloads, blurring of traditional role boundaries and social distancing measures will impact on their experiences.

As novice frontline staff, we are not only keen to understand and document their individual experiences and perception of their individual resilience, but were also curious about the sort of support they find they have access to and are more effective, as they enter the workplace at this time.

Those who agree to participate will complete a brief online questionnaire survey, participate in online focus groups and online discussion fora. We are aware that some students, who are eligible to go into practice have chosen not to, or have been unable to do so, for a variety of reason. These include having childcare/caring commitments, a personal underlying health condition that requires them to shield at home or health concerns of family members. Therefore, we are also keen to speak to students who found themselves in this position.

We expect that this research will provide insights that will inform health and social care systems during the current emergency and in the future. We believe that the findings will have wider relevance and application for policy, working practices and NHS-based and HEI educational programmes and support. The study will yield important learning health and social care services that should help develop appropriate supports for their staff now and beyond this period. We also envisage that it will inform future undergraduate and postgraduate education programmes in the health and social care professions, in relation to pandemic planning, service delivery, and individual resilience building. The findings should also feed into the development of future public health policy responses that will be needed to deal with the unintended health consequences arising, directly and indirectly, from this pandemic episode.

We have set up an email address for the study and while our study is concerned with RGU students and graduates, we are very aware that the questions we are focused on in this research are relevant to students and graduates across the UK. So please do get in touch if you want to know more about the study and tell us what you think.

Dr Flora Douglas (Reader: School of Nursing and Midwifery: Robert Gordon University)
Professor Catriona Kennedy (Academic Lead of Research: School of Nursing and Midwifery: Robert Gordon University)

on behalf the full research team who include:

Dr Aileen Grant (Senior Research Fellow: School of Nursing and Midwifery)
Professor Angela Kydd (Clinical Professor: School of Nursing and Midwifery)
Professor Scott Cunningham (Professor of Pharmacy Education and Practice: School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences)
Dr Nicola Torrance (Senior Research Fellow: School of Nursing and Midwifery)
Dr Alice Butler-Warke (Lecturer: School of Applied Health Sciences)
Dr Nick Adams (Research Fellow: School of Nursing and Midwifery)

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