A student nurse about to join the coronavirus frontline says she is risking her life “and the life of my loved ones”.
Gloria Sikapite, a mother of three from Luton, is one of 5,500 third-year nursing students who will now be helping the NHS battle COVID-19.
She is in the final year of a nursing degree at the University of Hertfordshire and agonised over joining the health service when it is under unprecedented strain during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had two options,” she said. “Either stepping off our course, which would mean a delayed graduation, or going into an extended placement.
“In my case I’ll go into placement 30 hours a week and have one day study time.”
Gloria is among students from 35 universities who have signed up for a six-month placement and she starts next week.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision,” she said. “It’s always a challenge going on placement but this time round it’s going to be even more challenging.”
She added: “In the COVID-19 period it means I’m not just giving up my time, I’m risking my life and the life of my loved ones.
“It’s not so much the time, it’s that added risk factor of knowing I might lose my life on placement. I’m scared.”
The student nurses will be paid a salary, which for those in the final six months of their undergraduate course begins at £21,892.
“The pay definitely helps but I’m sure it’s not the main reason students chose to opt in,” Gloria said.
“My outlook is that the nursing course taught me to be adaptable, flexible, and prepared.
“When we get through this I know there’s nothing that I won’t be able to handle. I’d like somebody somewhere to say: ‘Oh I remember this nurse who helped me through this.’
“I’m not promising everyone will have a great outcome but I like to think that they’d know they had a nurse who cared.”
A student at Brunel University in west London described university campuses as “ghost towns” after most people headed home when the lockdown began.
Few realistically expect students to be able to return until at least September and the sector has warned of losses of £790m by the end of the summer.
Those due to graduate this year are consumed by uncertainties about how and when they do so, how they will be graded and whether they can recoup money on the £9,250 a year tuition fees.
Chelsea Sowden, a third-year student studying animation at Nottingham Trent University, is currently one of only a handful of students remaining in student accommodation which usually houses 550.
“It’s lonely,” she said. “It’s weird not being able to hear people coming back at night or going out.”
As a student from a low-income household, she also worries about employment prospects when she does eventually graduate.
“A lot of the jobs I applied for have paused recruitment,” she added.
“It’s definitely thrown my plans out of whack and I’m now expecting to be unemployed for at least six months and that definitely wasn’t the case beforehand.
“There are also the people who have been made redundant, so you’ll not only be competing with other graduates for jobs but also with them.”