Nursing: how the profession changed in the pandemic


To mark International Nurses’ Day (12th May), the Harley Street Medical Area is spending the week celebrating the role of nurses. Today, Natalie Dean, deputy sister at Harefield Hospital, shares her experiences of nursing and how her profession has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic

As a nurse, the last year has been overwhelming. Last March, I came back from maternity leave into a new role two weeks before the pandemic hit. Then nursing got turned on its head and I got sent to another unit. It was as though everything changed overnight.

I have been nursing for five and a half years and I truly love it. During my first training placement, which was care of the elderly, within my first hour I was sent to help an elderly lady clean up. I felt so out of my depth, but I remember thinking to myself that if I can get through this placement, then I can get through the whole three years! I did, and I ended up loving care of the elderly. Everybody loves or hates it, and if you love it then you really love it. My passion for nursing grew from there.

Now I’m 28 years old and I am the private patients deputy sister on Juniper Ward at Harefield Hospital. One of the really special things about being here is the team environment; we’ve all got each other’s backs. We see each other more than we see our own families, we all get along and make sure we look out for each other.

As a nurse, the effect you can have on a patient is amazing. Sometimes the best moments are just talking to a patient about something they wouldn’t usually talk about. It’s those unscripted conversations where you just get to be a part of their life and have a positive impact which make nursing so rewarding.

The pandemic has been one of the worst experiences any nurse has had to go through, but I’m surprised at how many positives we have managed to draw out of each other. When the first wave happened, normal service shut down and we were all redeployed to areas that needed us. I will always remember walking past someone from my ward in the early days of the pandemic. We were both fully donned up in PPE, but they still managed to recognise me and called out my name. I was really emotional as we were jumping up and down saying: “I haven’t seen you in seven days!” It wasn’t even that long! It was just so overwhelming to find your own ward person in amongst it all. I will always remember that.

We were sent to many different areas of the hospital, so we’ve made friends across the various units. When you share an intense experience, I think you end up bonded for life. Harefield Hospital is quite small and I think I know someone in every department now, which is nice because it makes working here feel really personal.

Being a nurse at Harefield Hospital is so unique and special. Our hospitals – Royal Brompton and Harefield – are renowned for being centres of excellence in heart and lung care. This really does make a difference to the level of knowledge that’s expected of nurses. It is less task orientated and more evidence-based practice.

Here you are continually learning, and you’re expected to have a different level of knowledge because here there are fewer junior doctors than in a general hospital. That’s what I like about it: being a part of an expert team where everyone listens to you, especially throughout the peak of the pandemic. The consultants really value your input. In fact, everyone values each other’s input here. That’s what’s special; everyone has a right to have a say because it makes a difference to the specialist care we provide to our patients.