Tracy Eves, Healthcare Homes/University of East Anglia

Photo of Tracy Eves, trainee nursing associate, in uniform

Trainee nursing associate Tracy talks about her experience on the apprenticeship at Meadow House Nursing Home in Swaffham during the COVID-19 pandemic. She tells us how this experience has taught her resilience and the importance of communication.

What were you doing previously and why did you want to become a nursing associate?
I started working as a care assistant and progressed to senior care assistant, then did a healthcare practitioner qualification. I’d always wanted to be a nurse but hadn’t been able to because of the financial aspects. When the nursing associate role came up, I felt it was the right time to do it, as a route into nursing.

How were you finding the course before the COVID-19 pandemic?
I’ve really enjoyed the course. It’s been challenging academically, and I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve enjoyed my placements and the spoke days, on which you spend a day with a professional in another setting. For example, I did a spoke day with a community midwife and one with a dementia support team. I also did a placement in theatres, including a day with a paediatric nurse. The variety of settings has been really beneficial.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your course?
I was on placement and had to go back to my workplace. At first, I wondered if I was going to be able to complete the course.

Virtual learning has been a challenge, but within my cohort we all help one another and it’s getting easier. I’ve been doing online spokes around safeguarding children, refugees and homeless people. You can Zoom and chat with people and do your own research to get insight. With every different field you gain so much more knowledge. We’ve been able to complete some of our placement hours in other ways. For example, I’ve spoken online with a social worker.

What is it like, day to day?
With my employer, some nurses have had to self-isolate, so I’ve taken on a bit more responsibility to fill that gap. This has led the nurses to accept the TNA role more.

It’s all so different, with all the personal protective equipment (PPE). Our biggest fears were what we were going to bring home. All staff were worried about the results for our care home. Luckily, we haven’t had too many cases.

The pandemic is highlighting the potential of this role in social care. For those who test positive for COVID-19, my role is to administer medication, keep an eye on their observations, phone an ambulance and call the families. I put strict infection control measures in place. The nurse is there as a back-up so I can check with her.

The pandemic has been hard for residents because they don’t see their families and some of them really don’t like the staff wearing masks. As we’re wearing masks, we’re more aware of our body language; we have to smile with our eyes. We also wear gloves all the time now and sometimes people need the touch. When you have a glove on it’s not the same as holding someone’s hand skin to skin. We try to keep happy and not let them see our fears. We keep going even though we’re all scared.

How has your university/employer supported you?
My university has emailed us about support services, but I haven’t needed to use them.My employer offers a package of support available such as counselling. They make sure I get my learning time and days off to do my virtual learning.

What do you think you’re learning during this extraordinary time?
On a personal level it’s taught me to have more resilience. I realised that I’d got through a challenging time and had some good outcomes.

I’ve learnt to go with my gut instinct if something’s not right with a patient. Obviously, I do my clinical observations, but I’ve learnt to believe in myself more.

Supporting your workmates at this time is crucial. Everyone is going to go through times where they struggle and the only way to get through is as a team.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt on this course is that the most important skill nurses have is their communications skills. I’m in awe of some of the nurses. And I’ve realised that communication is one of the most important aspects of care.

What are your career ambitions?
If there’s an opportunity for me to progress to become a registered nurse, I will take it. I’ve been so fascinated with the spoke days that it’s hard to pick a specialisation, but I do love social care. I’m focused on finishing my training and then I’ll decide.

What would you say to people considering a career as a nursing associate?
I’d say do it. The nursing associate role is the best doorway for healthcare assistants to get that bit closer to becoming a nurse, bridging the gap between healthcare assistants and nurses. Carers have got great skills; it’s a good way for them to get a registration.