Two female nursing students looking at a clip board whilst walking through a hospital ward

International Nurses Day: ‘Spending so much time at hospital every day, the nurses really do become an extension of your family’

Content warning: Experiences of complications during pregnancy and birth, including premature and stillbirth   

BNU student nurses play a vital role on our hospital wards and in our communities. When BNU marketing officer Laura Wright had sudden pregnancy complications, it wasn’t just doctors and nurses who helped her, student nurses played an important role in getting her through one of the most turbulent times in her life. This is her story and the BNU student nurse Lottie who helped her. 

Around the time of International Nurses Day, I always find myself reflecting on the NHS and the amazing care our doctors, nurses and other key workers provide for us.  Nurses can often be a patient’s greatest advocate, caregiver and friend during scary times – and I experienced this first-hand during one of the most challenging times of my life. 

Let’s wind back to December 2019, when I was 28 weeks pregnant and trying to slow down a bit, ready for the Christmas break. I hadn’t felt quite right for a couple of days, and the baby hadn’t been moving as much as the hefty kicks and punches I’d been used to experiencing during the previous few weeks! I called my midwife for advice and she booked me in for a quick check up that morning. 

She wasn’t concerned that there was anything wrong but told me to go up to Stoke Mandeville Hospital for more detailed monitoring, just to make sure. Fast forward to that evening and I was being transferred to John Radcliffe Hospital by ambulance, with talk of delivery. Shortly after arriving at the JR, the emergency cord was pulled, and the room filled with people – I was whisked off to theatre for an emergency c-section as my baby’s heart rate had dropped and didn’t come back up.  

I was pretty terrified at this point and it all happened so fast that we weren’t sure if my husband would be able to come to theatre with me. I remember being wheeled down the corridor on a bed with a midwife one side of me pushing drugs through a cannula in my hand, and a doctor the other side trying to explain what was happening and get me to sign a consent form. But once we were in theatre, I actually felt a bit calmer – all the medical professionals did an amazing job of explaining what was happening, and thankfully my husband was then back by my side.

Sophie at one week old
Little Sophie when she was one week old

The next bit is all a blur as I lay there with my eyes shut and let the surgeons do their thing! My little girl Sophie made her arrival just over 11 weeks early weighing 3lbs 1oz (and don’t forget that ounce, it’s very important for someone so small!). I saw her for a few seconds before she was whisked away to be hooked up to the oxygen tubes and monitors that would be a part of her for the next few months.  

We spent eight days of incredible care at the John Radcliffe Hospital, trying to process what had happened, while dealing with a flood of hormones and the logistics of having a baby in Neonatal Intensive Care an hour away from home. I was lucky to be able to stay at the hospital for the first few nights, firstly on my own on a ward, and later with my husband in one of the ‘rooming in’ rooms on the Neonatal Unit. Although we couldn’t stay over at the hospital for the full time that Sophie was there, we’re so grateful to have been able to do this for the first few days as I know during really busy times this isn’t something that is available for all parents.    

I was well enough to meet Sophie properly and have my first cuddle with her, nearly 24 hours after she was born. The early days were so overwhelming, but the nurses gave us an incredible amount of support, not just emotional but practical too; from expressing milk and learning how to give it to Sophie via feeding tube, to conquering my first ever nappy change (quite a challenge when it’s done through the small doors in the side of an incubator!).   

Long hours were spent sat next to the incubator, gradually learning which alarms on the monitors I should worry about, what all the acronyms meant for the new medical terms I was hearing, and trying to be as involved as I could with caring for my tiny baby. Just before Christmas, Sophie was strong enough to make the journey back to Stoke Mandeville, and that’s where her ‘home’ would be for the next nine weeks.   

Having to leave to go home at the end of the day without my baby was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But on talking to many of the nurses in the NICU, I learned that they were either BNU graduates, or in fact current students!   

This was really comforting to me, and I honestly felt so proud to be part of that BNU family. I got talking to Lottie, a BNU Registered Nurse Degree Apprentice student that was working on the Unit. She would often come and sit down with me and ask how I was coping, and really took the time to listen to my worries.   

And this is why nurses are so important. They provide direct care, physically and mentally, and are a vital link between patient and family. When you leave the hospital, you know your nearest and dearest is being cared for in the best way possible. This gives you peace of mind, which is so important.  

To help with the times we couldn’t be at the hospital, we were told about a donation funded service the hospital subscribes to called VCreate – a secure video messaging service that helps families and clinical teams stay connected through their care journey. In the evening after we’d left the Unit, we would often receive photos and little videos of Sophie through VCreate, sent by the nurses.  

This was so reassuring for us, knowing she was happy and settled for the night. On special occasions such as birthdays and Valentine’s Day, the nurses would also make cards for the parents from their babies and leave them on the incubator – something we’ll treasure forever! It really helped with that sense of ‘normality’ too, softening what was often a harsh clinical environment.   

There were a few seemingly small things that Lottie specifically did too that have left a lasting impression on me – the main ones being asking how I would like to be referred to (by my name, or as ‘Mum’), reassuring me that I didn’t need to feel guilty for having a break, and reminding me I needed to look after myself too!   

With so much time spent at the hospital every day visiting your baby, the nurses really do become like an extension of your family, and it’s so incredible to see how much they really love what they do - and love the babies and families they look after just as much!  

Laura and Sophie pullquote
Happy and healthy: Sophie and Laura at Halloween last year

After 68 long days spent in hospital, we were discharged into the big wide world to start our new life as a family of three. Our time at home was short-lived, as 10 days after discharge from NICU Sophie got admitted to the Children’s Ward for a few days. But my BNU family was still there to hold me up, this time by Noelle, a Children’s nursing graduate and someone I’d worked with during her time as a Student Ambassador with us.

The Children’s Ward was a world away from the NICU environment we’d become used to, so having another familiar face to support me made this next step of our journey so much easier. Frequent hospital appointments and monitoring would become the new normal for us, but we will be forever grateful for the amazing love, care and support that we all received from the NHS.   

Neary 2 ½ years later, Sophie is happy, healthy (touch wood!) and headstrong little girl! And I was so delighted this week to see that Lottie has been nominated for the Student Nursing Times Award this year, and to hear of the amazing work she’s been doing since I met her in the NICU. I wish her the best of luck, as it is so deserved! 

Having to go home at the end of the day without my baby was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But on talking to many of the nurses in the NICU, I learned that they were either BNU graduates, or in fact current students!  This was really comforting to me, and I honestly felt so proud to be part of that BNU family.
Laura Wright Marketing Officer, BNU

Apprentice student nurse Lottie Whitlock: ‘I wanted to give something back’ 

Lottie Whitlock

 

Third year apprenticeship student Lottie Whitlock is studying for a BSc (Hons) Nursing (Children's) with NMC registration and is also nominated for a Student Nursing Times Award. The 37-year-old explains the catalyst for her career in nursing and what it means to her to care for people like Laura and her daughter Sophie. 

All nurses have at least one thing in common - they want to help people. I really wanted to help people through some of their most vulnerable moments.  

When I left school, I never want to be a nurse, I actually worked in social care for 12 years before moving into the NHS. At the age of 26 I watched my father die from terminal cancer in a very short space of time. It was then that I witnessed the care and compassion the hospice nurses showed to our family unit at such a heart-breaking time.  

I felt I wanted to give something back myself and maybe I could become a nurse showing the same empathy to others in similar situations.  

I started to do some research about areas of nursing I might be interesting in but unfortunately my ideas were immediately stopped three months later as I gave birth to our first child at full term, still. The support myself and my husband received from the nurses and midwives during this devasting time will be something we will never forget.  

We went onto to have two premmie babies, 33 and 34 weeks and again the nursing care we received only embedded more for me how much I needed to pursue a nursing career. I took the plunge and changed my career path in 2018 moving to the NHS into health visiting and applied for the nursing apprenticeship degree as a mature student in 2019.  

I remember Sophie, she was born at 28 weeks and presented with respiratory distress and prematurity. Laura spent many days and nights attending the unit to be with her and she was always so positive and responsive to Sophie's needs; they were such a pleasure to support and look after when on shift. 

Now I work within health visiting in the community. Health Visitors are registered nurses or midwives that have had additional training in public health. I feel that the role of a health visitor is so important it extends beyond just the child, to the wider family unit providing advice and support whilst you adjust to becoming new parents.  

The first five years of a child's life are vital in helping set them on the path to a long healthy life. Health visitors support the health and development of babies and children until they are five years old and start going to school as well as parents' health and wellbeing.  

The most rewarding thing I have found about being a nurse is the personal connection that I am able to make with patients and their families. No matter how long it has been, a patient remembers their nurse. They may or may not remember the nurse’s name, but they remember if they were kind and compassionate. A good nurse always is. 

People often think apprenticeships are for early career, but my experience has been invaluable being a mature student. BNU holds a great reputation within the local community and national nursing programme.  

BNU has provided me with the academic theory, on the job training and clinical skills needed to support my student nurse apprentice role and continued professional development within my NHS Trust.  

BNU has supported and provided me with necessary tools needed to build on my confidence over the three years throughout my course. My nursing course has provided me with new clinical skills I am able to put into practice at my place of work, its supported to improved patient care and provides opportunities to use transferrable skills.