A nurse who started her first job in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic has written a book reflecting on her “surreal” time on the frontline.
In What a Year to Qualify, published in March 2022, Sarah Hepworth-Dodds explores her time as a newly registered nurse on a high-dependency ward during the pandemic.
During her late 30s, Ms Hepworth-Dodds decided she wanted to change careers and pursue her dream of being a nurse.
After she finished her final year at the University of Sunderland, Ms Hepworth-Dodds got her first nursing job in north London, working on a high-dependency unit, and then the pandemic hit.
“I just really think that it’s important, especially with the stresses that the staff in the NHS are under at the moment, that it’s not forgotten what we went through”
“It was so surreal. When you are in that moment, and you are doing five and six shifts a week just to make sure that staffing levels are fine, and you are in that moment, you are almost in autopilot,” she told Nursing Times.
“Your patients and everything are your focus.”
It was only after the pandemic began to calm down that Ms Hepworth-Dodds realised just how challenging it had been. But she said it was the love for the job that carried her through.
“When you think about the lives you have touched on its worth it,” she said.
“Doesn’t matter how hard or long it is, or how you feel inside, as a healthcare professional, you just get the energy from somewhere and you just carry on with it.”
Around her shifts, Ms Hepworth-Dodds found the time to write her book.
Sometimes she would come back from health clinics and immunisations and write 3,000-5,000 words a night, she said. And within 10 days she had her first draft.
Ms Hepworth-Dodds hopes her book, which includes highs and lows of being a frontline nurse, will be a testament to the resilience of NHS staff and will also show what needs to be improved for the nursing workforce.
“We now have the tools to come out of the pandemic and look after the health and wellbeing of the staff themselves”
She said: “I just really think that it is important, especially with the stresses that the staff in the NHS are under at the moment, that it is not forgotten what we went through.
“We now have the tools to come out of the pandemic and look after the health and wellbeing of the staff themselves.”
There were three aims she wanted to achieve by documenting her experience, Ms Hepworth-Dodds explained.
The first was to “inspire nurses of the future”. She hoped that individuals would read the book and “want to be part of the success story” of being a nurse.
The second was to reassure current nurses. “They’re in burnout. I wanted them to read it and actually reflect and appreciate what they did [in the pandemic]. They are doing such an amazing job,” she said.
Lastly, she wanted to reinforce to the public that nurses provided quality care for loved ones during the pandemic.
Ms Hepworth-Dodds moved back to Newcastle at the end of May 2021, and joined Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust as an occupational health nurse, which was inspired by her time working through the pandemic.
She said: “I think working in that environment and seeing what little support staff had, I wanted to be on the other side and be able to be there for the staff and provide the support.”
Nursing Times continues to lobby for appropriate mental health and wellbeing support for nurses and colleagues as part of our Covid-19: Are You OK? campaign.