As 2020 draws to a close, we are acknowledging and celebrating the dedication of our graduates working in the NHS. We asked five BU alumni to reflect on the past year, and to tell us their hopes for the year ahead. The interviews also form part of BU’s celebration of the International Year of the Nurse/Midwife, designated by the World Health Organisation to mark the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.

James graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Nursing (learning Disabilities) in 2008 and is now an Advanced Clinical Practitioner with University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust.

How did your job role change as a result of the pandemic?

I work in a service which supports children and young people who have a developmental condition such as autism, ADHD or a learning disability. We have been able to continue working throughout the pandemic, but there have been huge changes in the way in which we stay in touch with families. Where previously we would bring young people and families in to a clinic, we are now more likely to catch up with them via phone or video. Where we do see young people, we are having to do so using appropriate protective equipment. This can be challenging for young people who are still getting used to professionals wearing masks, gloves and aprons. The experiences of young people and their families have also varied; for some, the experience of being at home was a positive one. For others, it was challenging losing their usual routine of school. We therefore worked closely with other organisations to try and offer support in different ways, including through virtual meetings and workshops. We also developed support and advice for young people when they returned to school.

What were the biggest challenges of the past year – professionally or personally?

There is research to indicate that individuals with a disability and their families have been profoundly impacted by the pandemic. Initially we did not have a huge number of families contacting us – it seems some felt we were not available, and others didn't want to contact an NHS service at time of huge pressure on health provision. While it is true that we were busy, one of the challenges for us was to ensure we remained in contact with young people and families. We were able to do so, often working closely with partner agencies including charitable groups. This has allowed us to develop the ways in which we provide support, some of which we will certainly keep and others which have been less successful.

What, if any, were the high points or moments of celebration?

As with other parts of the NHS, it has been fantastic to see how teams have worked together in response to the pandemic. We have not been on the front line of providing care for individuals with Covid-19. However, there have been a huge number of challenges for our team and we have been able to find ways of overcoming them all to ensure we continue to provide support to our young people and their families.

How have the challenges of this year compared with the rest of your career to date?

I have been fortunate to work in a number of different services and within each there have been periods of challenge through service pressure, change, adverse weather and many other things. However, the shift in the way services are provided has been much more noticeable within the current pandemic. This has obviously been out of necessity, as we couldn't keep doing the things we did before. I am hopeful that there will be positives we can take away from the pandemic with new ways of working which benefit all of us.

As 2020 draws to a close, what has this year taught you and what are your hopes for the coming year?

I think this year has shown me the importance of flexibility – to see the benefits in change and the opportunities it has brought about. Having said that, I hope the coming year provides some additional stability, allowing us to build on some of those opportunities.