Experiences from a student and front-line care worker

"...always look after yourself first because I have found if I’m not feeling fit and well then I can't carry out my job as effectively when caring for those who need us most."

We are delighted to present a Q & A style blog from Becca, a Health and Social Care student who has been working front-line as a care worker. 

In this blog, she shares her experiences of being a student whilst working in the social care sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Huge thanks to Becca for sharing this with us!

Hi everyone! My name is Becca, I am currently a 4th-year student at the University of the West of Scotland studying Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Integrated Health and Social Care. Alongside my studies, I am a mentee with Scottish Care, with the lovely Karen Hedge as my mentor through the Employer Mentoring Programme within the university. Outside of my studies, I am currently a care assistant within a local care home in Ayrshire, providing specialist care for individuals who are living with dementia and other mental health conditions. I have been working in this role for over seven years, two years as a community care assistant and five years within the care home setting. 

What are the benefits and challenges of being a student and working on the front line as a care assistant?

For myself, the benefit of being a student and working on the front line as a care assistant in a care home setting allows me to plan and organise my diary for student life and working life. Although my planning and organisation skills are quite good, I had to work on them even further to ensure I was participating in my online classes. Because we had to work from home as well as help at work with extra shifts to cover for people shielding or experiencing Covid-19 symptoms. The challenges I have been faced with when being a student during this pandemic is being stuck in four walls for my classes, alone facing a laptop with the rest of my class. It has been difficult as I love socialising with others, meeting up with my friends and grabbing a coffee from the café within the university. I have not been able to do any of that since March 2020 and because of this, it has had an impact on my mental health. The challenge I face at work is wearing the face mask when caring for people who are living with dementia and the majority of these individuals are living with advanced dementia. They often don’t understand why we are wearing masks and often would like us to take them off because they miss our ‘smiles’ when we see them, or they can’t tell us apart from each other. This has become a challenge because it upsets myself and work colleagues to see our residents become distressed and upset with having us in masks when they are so used to seeing us with smiles and could tell us apart in their own way.

 How has Covid-19 impacted my learning and job role?

Covid-19 has impacted my learning because I enjoy bouncing ideas off my class peers and lectures over a coffee and participating in class discussions. I feel it isn’t the same when behind a keyboard and quite often I find myself confused or stuck on something to do with my course work which leads to me becoming stressed because I don’t have that environment to work with others. Sometimes I have managed to book a ‘study space’ within the university and meet up with one class peer, which has helped not only myself but my class peer as well because it is not just myself that has struggled through this. Covid-19 has impacted my job because where we were able to hug our residents when they were upset, now we must wear PPE including face masks on which often scared our residents, and they did not want to come near us because they did not know who we were behind the mask. Closing our doors to visitors and family members was heartbreaking because our residents would look out for their families and they could not understand where they were. With no visits being permitted in the home, often colleagues and I would witness a decline in our residents, which was heartbreaking to see, and I personally think the lack of social interaction from families contributed to that. 

What have I learned from this experience?

From this experience, I have learned to keep your loved ones close even after the pandemic is over. This experience has taught me to ensure I check in with friends and family to make sure they are doing ok and if they need anything, especially my grandpa. It has taught me to plan and organise my time effectively between my student life and my work life so I don’t become overwhelmed with everything that is happening around us. It is vital that you look after your own mental wellbeing especially in these dark times, I often speak to myself and practice deep breathing exercises when I feel I am becoming a bit overwhelmed with everything. I have also found self-care days have been very beneficial in my own mental wellbeing and this has been developed since having this experience of the pandemic as I would not have normally done this prior to Covid-19.

What advice would I give to future people if this happens again? 

The advice I would give to anyone who is struggling through this pandemic or find ourselves back in a similar situation is to look after yourself and speak to someone if you find you are coping. Mental health is so important, and everyone should live a positive, healthy life no matter the age you are. If you are a student and working on the front line like myself, then my advice is to ensure you plan things as best as you can, it might not go the way you want it but if you have routine and plan things to become less overwhelmed and always … I mean always look after yourself first because I have found if I’m not feeling fit and well then I can’t carry out my job as effectively when caring for those who need us most.