Duke and Duchess of Cambridge tell nursing students pandemic work is 'baptism by fire'

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·5 min read

Watch: William and Kate share nurse’s TikTok diary

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have shared a student nurse’s typical daily experience as she trains in the middle of a pandemic, sympathising that the situation has been a “baptism by fire”.

The royal couple spent time talking to nursing students at Ulster University via video call and asked Abigail McGarvey, a first-year Adult Nursing student, to share a day in her life.

They also spoke to three year 3 students who are doing practical clinical sessions but have been on placement in hospitals too.

Talking about training during the coronavirus pandemic, William said: “That’s really baptism by fire.”

Kate added: “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.”

McGarvey’s video diary starts will her getting up at 5.30pm, as she works night shifts, and getting ready for the working day ahead.

She gets to the hospital at 8pm, and gets her PPE ready for non-COVID patients.

She goes onto show how she fills in forms at midnight, and eventually gets to go home to shower and sleep again at 8am.

Despite the tough job, learning to train in the middle of a pandemic, McGarvey voices her gratitude to those she works with and her dedication to the job.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spoke to nursing students at Ulster University. (Kensington Palace)
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spoke to nursing students at Ulster University. (Kensington Palace)
<p>The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have shared a video diary created by a student nurse to show what a day in her life is like as she trains during the pandemic. Abigail McGarvey is a first-year Adult Nursing student at Ulster University and has been on night shifts during her placement. The diary shows how she gets up at 5.30pm, gets ready to go to work for 8pm, sorts out forms at midnight and eventually goes home at 8am. The royal couple chatted to McGarvey via a video call. </p>
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge speak to Abigail McGarvey, a first-year Adult Nursing student at Ulster University. (Kensington Palace)

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In the video caption she writes: “Caring for people puts me as a student nurse in a very privileged position as many of these people are extremely vulnerable.

“In providing person-centred care we often form close relationships with patients and watching them become ill and perhaps dying means we have to develop resilience to cope with that.”

She later added: “There’s such incredible days and some days are so so hard.

“The busy, tiring days on placements, assignments and remote learning are so hard sometimes but I am really enjoying my course so far and look forward to the challenges it brings me in the future.

“Starting nursing training in a pandemic is never ideal but I’ve been so well supported and I’m so thankful.”

McGarvey spoke to William, 38, and Kate, 39, on Tuesday, sharing her experiences of starting her degree during the pandemic and the impact that had on her being able to socialise with fellow students.

She also shared how the increase in online learning had impacted her, but asked whether the situation changed her ambitions, she said: “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.”

Watch: William and Kate speak to nursing student working on frontline of pandemic response

The year 3 students are working in clinical placements at the campus in Derry/Londonderry. (Kensington Palace)
The year 3 students are working in clinical placements at the campus in Derry/Londonderry. (Kensington Palace)

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McGarvey, whose grandmother, mother and sister are all nurses, said: “My first day on the wards I showed up and within a few hours there was a massive cardiac arrest.

“And seeing everything just go up in the air, and how the team comes together, and how everyone is really working to look after these patients – it really just solidified that this is exactly what I want to do.”

She said because families can’t visit patients “you have to give them so much more”.

The royals then spoke to a group of second and third year students who are taking part in practical clinical sessions at Ulster University, including year three students Elizabeth Semerdzhieva, Rachel Reid, and Paige Murray and their lecturer, Stephanie Dunleavey.

They were stood around a dummy in a bed as their lecturer supervised.

The students told them about taking on placements during the first wave of the pandemic, revealing that they extended them to continue helping respond on the frontline against the coronavirus.

William told the trainees: “It’s very difficult for you guys to go straight into a pandemic I would imagine, that’s really baptism by fire as they say, isn’t it?”

Semerdzhieva, a Year 3 nursing student, replied: “Yes, right, although it was frightening at the start, you know, you really want to go out more.

“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.”

The groups told the duke and duchess they were grateful for the experience they had, and the support from the university.

Prince William and his wife Kate have been forced to return to video call engagements in recent weeks as England went into a third lockdown.

They had been getting back to in-person events, including a whistle-stop tour of the UK, taking them across the country visiting key workers and people affected by the pandemic.

But they returned to their Norfolk home of Anmer Hall just before Christmas and have been using the Queen’s home of Sandringham for many of their calls.

They continue to help homeschool their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, who go to Thomas’s Battersea. Their youngest, Prince Louis, is two and not yet in school.