COVID-19: returning to work as an ICU nurse is scary, but it’s a privilege too

A nurse’s experience of returning to clinical practice after a 25-year break to help with the COVID-19 pandemic

covid-19 icu nurse

After a 25-year break from clinical practice, where I’d mostly worked in intensive care nursing, I had been hankering after a return to clinical work for some time.

I joined my local trust’s nurse bank in January and had been working in endoscopy.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it seemed obvious I should find out whether my rusty intensive care skills could be useful to my local trust.

Returning to intensive care after a long break was daunting  

Volunteering to step up and work in intensive care felt like a very big move after such a long break. But the staff on the unit welcomed me with open arms.

I reported for duty, put on scrubs and was orientated to the unit. The first part of the brief induction was a ‘fit test’ for my personal protective equipment (PPE), which involved putting on a face mask and a hood.

An aerosol was then pumped into the hood and I had to move around and pretend to talk to a patient. The aerosol has a bitter taste and if it gets through the mask, the wearer can taste it and know that the PPE is not working properly.

It took seven minutes to test the mask. I felt reassured when I took it off and instantly tasted the bitterness from the aerosol. I learned to ‘don and doff’ the full PPE, undertook simulations to correctly place patients in the prone position and refreshed my knowledge of how to manage cardiac arrest.

As the day went on, the gravity of the crisis hit me. I felt tearful and had to go out and call a good friend who is a former nurse for reassurance. The next day I was allocated to work with an experienced intensive care nurse, who I shadowed while caring for a patient.

My return to intensive care has taught me that the principles of good nursing care are timeless and constant, and regular and effective communication with patients and the multidisciplinary team (MDT) is as important now as it ever was.

By Kim Tolley, a bank staff nurse


This is an abridged version of the article COVID-19: returning to work as an ICU nurse is scary, but it’s a privilege too that was first published on Nursing Standard as part of the free COVID-19 resource centre, created to support all nurses and healthcare professionals during this challenging period as they care for coronavirus patients.

The COVID-19 resource centre includes evidence-based clinical articles and "how-to" guides, the latest news, policy updates and a selection of relevant RCNi Learning modules.

It is hoped that nurses and student nurses will share it with colleagues and across their networks to help healthcare professionals battle against COVID-19 and bring the outbreak under control.

Visit the Nursing Standard COVID-19 resource centre

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