Brian Webster, student nurse

It was 20 March last year, and I was on clinical placement in Dundee where I'm studying nursing. I was the school president at my university, so I was aware of emerging plans to potentially pause nursing students' clinical placements as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded.

I'd also heard from colleagues in the medical school that students were being removed from their placements. So there was a sense that this might happen, but it didn't sink in that it would happen for nursing students.

I remember going into my placement on this particular day, and initially it was like any other day. I'd worked the same placement before as a health care assistant, so I knew many of the staff there.

In the afternoon, I checked my emails during a break. And I saw an email from my university. It said we could choose to withdraw from our placements, and suggested we wouldn't have to do more until the crisis was over if we didn't want to.

Initially I felt some confusion. The email also talked about an alternative plan for our studies. I thought, 'Will I miss out on my practice hours? What does this mean for the rest of my education?' Things were obviously moving very quickly.

Feeling a sense of shock as Covid-19 took hold

The overriding emotion was shock -- the realisation that this must be really serious. That the pandemic was here. Obviously we knew it developing around the world, and that it was in London. But suddenly it was affecting people like me in Dundee, and at that point I knew this was massive.

I was with a student from another university and they were feeling the same emotions as me. I remember some of the registered nurses also felt quite surprised at the news. I think in that moment, they probably felt some of the same sense of shock that we did, and were also wondering what Covid-19 would mean for them.

I read the email about 40 times just to make sure I'd read it properly. Then I went home. It seemed unreal, like something out of a movie.

Shortly before the placement I'd been in London as part of the Council of Deans 150 Leaders programme. And I remember thinking, 'From being on a plane to London, to being removed from placement in a matter of days.'

I went home and reflected. My girlfriend works in health and care too, so we talk about it a lot and we have similar perceptions. She was also asking what this meant for me and my education.

Making my own decision about whether to opt in

There was a period of waiting. It was difficult to imagine what would happen next. Then I heard whispers that student would be asked to opt in to paid clinical placements. Initially students in their final six months, but then extended to all second and third years.

I struggled with that. There's an assumption that the people who didn't opt in were shielding or had vulnerable people at home. In my case it was because at the time I didn't think it was morally right to ask students to do that. But reflecting on it now, it could have been disastrous for the NHS if students weren't asked.

Even now, when people ask if I did a paid placement, I struggle telling them no. I've found it difficult because friends have opted in. I've felt guilt for not doing it - it ate me up a bit. But at the time, I made the right decision for me.

Read more nursing and midwifery stories from the pandemic.