Eleven clinically-trained staff from the University of Stirling have volunteered to return to frontline healthcare duties to support the COVID-19 pandemic response. These are their stories.
Paramedic Chris Aitchison has recently arrived at the University, to lecture on Stirling’s new BSc Paramedic Science – but is ready to return to his previous role to help during the crisis.
“I only left the Scottish Ambulance Service a matter of weeks ago,” Chris said. “I had worked there for 23 years; as a paramedic, paramedic practitioner and, latterly, as an associate lecturer in paramedicine at the Scottish Ambulance Academy.
“I think my skills and expertise could be useful to colleagues at this time – and I’m grateful to the University for allowing this to happen. I have indicated that I could offer clinical support as a paramedic to my Scottish Ambulance Service colleagues and to the people of my community. Although a small contribution, I hope it helps.”
Dr Carol Bugge, Associate Professor in Health Sciences, worked in adult orthopaedics in Glasgow and transplant surgery in New York, before training as a paediatric nurse and working in London. She has worked in research for almost 25 years and, since February 2004, has been at the University of Stirling, where she supervises doctoral students, coordinates a module on research design for clinical practice, and conducts research.
Carol said: “Although I have been out of practice for a long time, I work with clinicians on a daily basis and can see how COVID-19 is impacting – or has the potential to impact – colleagues. If the skills I have can be of help, then it is important to me to offer that support.
“If I am required, I will be going to NHS Forth Valley. I am anxious, given the period that I have been out of practice, however, I am confident that our clinical partners will support me and propose a role that my skills can be useful for.”
Having qualified in 1992, Dr Dawn Cameron is a nurse and midwife who has held both hospital and community-based roles in NHS Highland, NHS Lothian and in Queensland. While in Australia, Dawn moved into academia at the University of Queensland and has worked at Stirling since 2012. Today, a Lecturer in Health Sciences, she hopes to return to community nursing or midwifery in the coming weeks to support colleagues during the COVID-19 response.
She said: “I want to offer my clinical skills and expertise at this time of crisis. I think we’re all concerned, given these uncertain times, but I feel I will gain comfort from being able to contribute.”
Gwen Drysdale trained as a nurse in 1984 before spending 24 years in clinical practice in Fife – working in various hospitals and across a number of surgical specialties, including orthopaedics, and holding the position of Charge Nurse at Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy. Alongside this position, she worked as an agency nurse and continued this secondary role when she joined the University of Stirling in 2008, to support the education of undergraduate nursing students.
Hoping to return to NHS Fife to provide support at this challenging time, Gwen, a Lecturer, said: “I have chosen to return to practice because you can’t take the nurse out of the person – it is a privilege to provide care to people when they need it, and to help your fellow nurses.
“I would like to put my skills to use and feel ready to support the NHS.”
Paramedic Dr David Fitzpatrick, a Senior Lecturer in Health Sciences and Programme Director for Stirling’s new BSc Paramedic programme, has 25 years of experience in frontline clinical practice.
He continues to practice clinically with the Scottish Ambulance Service and has offered to provide additional support during this challenging time. He said: “I studied paramedicine simply to help people – and I know the pressures and challenges faced by our healthcare services due to COVID-19. It was an easy decision – as I know the right thing to do is to go back to practice and support my clinical colleagues and those people who need our care. I will be working as a paramedic with the Scottish Ambulance Service, on the frontline across the Forth Valley and Perthshire area.
“I am extremely grateful to the University – and my colleagues there – for their support in helping to make this happen.”
With a career spanning more than 30 years, Alison Hackett has experience practising as a nurse, midwife, health visitor and child protection adviser. She has substantial professional experience working with and safeguarding the health and wellbeing of children and families.
Alison joined the University as a Lecturer in December 2014 and is Programme Director for the MSc Early Years Practice (Health Visiting). She has volunteered to return to clinical practice to support the NHS and is still awaiting confirmation of where she will be posted – but anticipates a return to health visiting, child protection, or maternity services.
“I have always been passionate about nursing and, when the opportunity arose to return to practice, I jumped at the chance,” she said. “I have valuable skills, knowledge and experience that I can use to help in frontline practice and it will be a privilege for me to support the NHS in this time of need.”
Ela Hamer graduated as a mental health nurse from the University of Stirling in 2018 and worked in a mental health acute admissions ward – before returning to the University as a Lecturer in Mental Health just a few weeks ago.
“My passion lies in teaching and student support – but it was difficult leaving the NHS at such a critical time and I had personal feelings of obligation to stay within practice,” Ela explained.
“It was a relief when I found out the University was offering the opportunity to return to practice – and I am delighted that I am able to continue to support the NHS, whilst also providing support for students out in practice during these difficult circumstances.
“I am awaiting confirmation on where I will be placed – but I will be returning as a mental health nurse.”
Dr Louise Hoyle qualified as a nurse in 2004 and worked in accident and emergency at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. On moving to Scotland, Louise moved into academia while maintaining occasional shifts at NHS Forth Valley. Having worked at Stirling as a Lecturer in Nursing since October 2018, she teaches across the undergraduate nursing programme and hopes to help out the COVID-19 response, working alongside her students who have recently joined the NHS effort.
She said: “I love that I am able to encourage and educate the next generation of nurses – and, although I’m not currently in clinical practice, I am still a nurse and have skills to offer at this time of need. I believe it’s important to support my fellow healthcare professionals and our nursing students – and the experience will also enable me to develop new skills and learning that I will be able to pass on to future students.”
Louise added: “I have a young family at home and I did have to give returning to practice some thought – but my family has been supportive and encouraged me to volunteer. I also so feel so encouraged by the response of the nursing community and that everyone is pulling together at this time. I would like to thank the University for their support of the NHS at this time.”
Gwenne McIntosh worked as a mental health nurse – predominantly in community settings – before achieving a BSc in Advanced Nursing and going on to work in a strategic development role, developing education and training for healthcare staff and family caregivers. She moved into education in 2006 and remained on the nursing bank until 2015 when she started her PhD.
Gwenne has worked as a Senior Lecturer at the University since January 2019 and is Programme Director of the BSc Professional Practice. Reflecting on her decision to return to practice, she said: “I am well placed to offer support and I feel it is essential that I do support my nursing colleagues where I can. This situation has impacted our students and has inspired me to work alongside them at this time.
“I had always intended to return to practice on completing my PhD – it has just come a little sooner than I anticipated. I feel apprehensive as I have never worked in the NHS during a pandemic – so that brings its own worries – but I also feel a sense of pride as I am passionate about nursing and feel proud to be part of the profession.”
Fiona Smith, Senior Lecturer in Acute Nursing and Faculty Lead for Clinical Skills and Simulation, teaches all aspects of acute care nursing at Stirling – including advanced life support. Her last role in clinical care was in the intensive therapy unit at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. She left there to pursue a career in education in November 2003 and has worked at the University of Stirling since August 2017 – but hopes to return to clinical practice in the coming weeks, to support the NHS.
She said: “My passion for nursing has never left me - it simply refocused to allow me to educate and support the next generation of nurses. At this time of need, there was no doubt in my mind that returning to help frontline care, in any way that I can, was the natural thing to do. It hasn't yet been confirmed where I will be posted – but I would anticipate a return to the intensive therapy unit, given my clinical background.”
She added: “It is fantastic that the University is supporting our return to clinical practice at such an important time. I am looking forward to being back – but naturally a bit nervous. NHS Forth Valley and our other clinical partners have done so much to support our students over the years; it is a privilege for me to be able to support them now in a clinical capacity.”