The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spoke with nursing students from Ulster University’s School of Nursing in Northern Ireland on Tuesday to learn about their experiences with being placed in practical work settings during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I imagine it’s been totally crazy and very difficult to kind of find your feet and just head on fire the whole time, is that right?” William asked first-year nursing student Abigail McGarvey.
McGarvey, who went viral on TikTok earlier this year for documenting a night shift during the pandemic, told the royal couple, “It isn’t ideal, and it is unfortunate because you have your patients and they can’t see their families, and there are some who have been in the hospital for months, and they don’t have anyone else to talk to apart from us.”
McGarvey told the couple about her challenges, both with work placement and attending university in the midst of a pandemic.
Kate asked, “Do you think this time has been really hard and really difficult for lots of young people?”
“Definitely, not being able to go and even and chat to your friends and go into their house, I think it’s really a massive struggle and not being able to just rant and tell them everything that happened in your day and just have a hug. I think that’s what a lot of people miss is just having a hug,” McGarvey replied.
Kensington Palace noted that Ulster University’s School of Nursing is one of the top 50 nursing schools globally and that “at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, students were asked to join the front line. Student placements were adapted to meet the needs and demands of the health service, with the majority of students being placed in COVID-19 areas in both hospital and community settings.”
Prince William asked McGarvey if doing her practical in the midst of a pandemic had changed her mind about being a nurse, but the student replied, “It has really confirmed that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life – this is the job I was meant to do.”
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph afterwards, McGarvey said that William and Kate were “so easy to talk to” and that “they were really comforting and asked us so much.
“They asked about what it’s like being a student nurse during the pandemic and what challenges have come up and about my TikTok video and asked did I enjoy doing it.”
After chatting with McGarvey, William and Kate joined in a video call with second-and third-year nursing students currently taking part in practical clinical sessions in Derry/Londonderry on the University’s Magee Campus.
The Duke told the group of three students that being placed in a practical working environment in the midst of a pandemic was “baptism by fire.”
The Duchess praised them for taking up nursing, saying: “Nursing is one of the most trusted professions in the country, so you couldn’t have chosen a better career choice and it’s needed now more than ever.
“You’ve got almost three generations now – those coming back from retirement but also you guys doing your training who are stepping up – it shows real commitment and real teamwork, and it should really be celebrated, so really well done.”
Elizabeth Semerdzhieva, a third-year nursing student, said that at the beginning of her placement she was frightened but “now you can’t wait to get back out and practise, to feel like you’re helping, you know because that’s what we were born to do really.”
Also joining Semerdzhieva were Rachel Reid and Paige Murray, as well as lecturer Stephanie Dunleavey. Kensington Palace noted that some nursing students had chosen to extend their placements in order to provide support to frontline workers and that they “discussed their appreciation for the invaluable experiences they have gained working on the frontline and the support they received from the university during this challenging period.”