Rob Parry

I've been working in nursing for 43 years but retired from my job at NHS Education for Scotland a couple of years ago. In March and April last year, I could see that pressure on health and care services was drastically increasing. The Covid-19 pandemic was a clinical priority and I felt I wanted to support these efforts. So I contacted my local hospital to ask how I could help.

My biggest day came when I was given a uniform. Having worked in managerial and educational roles for years, it had been a while since I'd put a uniform on or worked on the wards! So for me, it was about preparing to go back onto the frontline by undertaking NHS Tayside rapid induction programme. This included revisiting the fundamentals of care, identifying deteriorations in patients - looking for signs among people with Covid that might lead to further health complications.

But in the end I found myself working 'behind the scenes' in a supportive role, since my skillset was better suited to educating and supporting those on the frontline than for providing direct care.

I joined the Practice Education Facilitation team, who support clinical staff and provide student support. The role was refocused to include refreshing students' knowledge about infection prevention and control, teaching students how to wear and remove PPE equipment correctly, and promoting health and wellbeing. I was one step away from direct clinical care but playing a small part in making sure nurses had the right skills.

I saw the pandemic's intensity, and the number of people who needed care, putting a physical and mental strain on some. I found that some students were particularly overwhelmed. Many weren't used to the intense nature of the wards or nursing in PPE, and at times seeing patients deteriorate so quickly, or seeing many die.

Death at any time is challenging. But this was a scale most students would never have expected to see in their training. They had to apply their skills and knowledge quickly, developing coping strategies and resilience. And as time went on, many of their colleagues were also going off sick with Covid or having to self-isolate, which meant pressure on the workforce remained high.

But my work gave me the opportunity to listen and speak with these frontline students and staff. And this gave them an opportunity to reflect on the positive impact they were having. I was always trying to highlight how important it is for them to look after their own health and wellbeing.

The fundamentals of care never leave you

I was filled with apprehension at the start of this journey. I didn't know what was going to happen or what the future held. I was initially prepared to join the frontline. It would have been a challenge but I would have learned and adapted quickly, like so many nurses and midwives have done.

There are many people in a similar situation, who've come out of retirement to do their bit. I'm sure they'd agree that the fundamentals of care never leave you. It's just about refreshing your knowledge as well as learning new skills.

But I'm glad I've been able to apply my skills to where they're best suited. Most recently, I've been helping the Public Health Team at NHS Education for Scotland, working with Public Health Scotland to develop educational resources for the vaccine rollout.

Professionals need to understand what the vaccines are, their effects, their safe administration and the legalities around them. The same educational development goes for taking swabs for Covid testing. There's a procedure and a technique to master in so many care settings, like care homes, health centres, and care at home. And these are all things health and care professionals need to learn.

I'm helping put a man on the moon

Looking back over the last 12 months, I feel sadness for all those lives affected by Covid. We've been through so much. In all my years of nursing I've never seen anything like it. But we've pulled together and we're getting through it. I'm pleased to have played a small part in a much bigger picture.

I think about the story of John F Kennedy, when he asked a cleaner at NASA space station what his role was. He replied, "I'm helping put a man on the moon". It might seem like a cliché, but it's true. We've all been doing our bit during this pandemic. I don't think I could've sat back and let this play out without trying to help.

I'm in awe of the care and compassion I've seen. Of people's goodwill, teamwork, comradeship and generosity. Not only from health and care staff, but from the community, too! It's been so inspiring. Professionals have gone above and beyond to help people.

We've all got our stories about why we chose to enter the nursing or midwifery professions. I've often asked myself, 'Why did I become a nurse?' I think we can all agree that we came in to make a difference to people's lives. And we are. This past year has reaffirmed how important our roles are, both on the frontline and behind the scenes.

Read more nursing and midwifery stories from the pandemic.