Graduation Tales: Nurse uses Masters degree to promote resilience after pandemic

Nicky Marsh.jpg

Respiratory nurse Nicky Marsh is graduating from the University of South Wales (USW) with a Masters in Leadership and Management – and has already seen the benefits after a tough 21 months of working throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Based at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board as a Ward Manager, Nicky had been nursing for more than two decades before deciding to take on the three-year Masters course at USW, alongside her career.

Then, during the second year of her studies, Covid-19 hit – with Nicky and her colleagues having to face unprecedented challenges at the Royal Gwent Hospital.

“I had to up-skill my staff very quickly, as the situation was changing almost hourly,” said Nicky, who lives with her partner and children.

“We also needed to move patients around so that we could have designated wards for Covid-19 patients. Up until March 2020, we had two respiratory wards at the hospital – one that was largely caring for patients with liver cancer, chest drains etc, and the other that was for non-invasive ventilation, and that’s the type of treatment that Covid-19 patients need.

“All of my staff needed to learn those skills immediately, even though nobody really knew what looking after a Covid-19 patient would look like; it was different to anything we’d experienced before. 

“At one point I was looking after four wards, which was tricky with rising patient numbers, staff shortages and agency nurses being brought in to cover. Looking back, it was tough at the very beginning, when I’d be doing long shifts and then having to come home and submit assignments.

“Then, in November 2020, we moved to the new Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran. We must have been one of the only health boards in the world to do that in the middle of a pandemic! But I was very grateful for moving; although it was five months earlier than planned, I went from managing after four wards to just one.

“As the manager, I had to bring together a team which was amalgamated staff from three separate hospitals, and make that happen very quickly as we were all relying on each other. That worked really well – they’re a fantastic team and we’ve gone through the rest of the Covid-19 journey together.”

Nicky Marsh in PPE.jpgDespite a stressful time at work, Nicky found that she was already starting to use some of what she had been studying and could apply it to her role.

“The Change module and the ILM [Institute of Leadership and Management] module came at just the right time. It made me look more closely at change management, the best ways to get people on board, understanding the processes behind it to get the best results. 

“My dissertation was all about burnout in nurses during the pandemic, and what that looked like; the cause and effect of burnout and how to rebuild resilience in nurses, post-pandemic. And although we're still going through it, I'm able to use what I learned in order to support my staff and suggest different ways of supporting them. The course has really helped me – I’m absolutely positive of that.

“When I tried to start my dissertation, I would sit at my kitchen table for hours and either not get anything written, or not retain anything I was reading. I’m certain that it was my own personal burnout. And as deadline day was approaching, I realised I was nowhere near being able to submit on time. I’m quite stubborn, and not the type of person who asks for a deadline extension, but I had to make myself accept that if I was going to make a decent job of it, I had to give myself a break – that pressure, on top of everything else, just wasn’t good for me. So I applied for an extension which gave me a few extra months to get my head straight and be able to put pen to paper.

“My supervisor, Monica Gibson-Sweet, has been amazing. She has a very strong personality – as do I – so we’ve had some interesting discussions over the past three years, but her belief in me and my classmates has been unwavering all the way through. I’ve never had anybody tell me that I’m capable of a Masters, that I’m intelligent, so she helped give me that self-belief.

“If anyone is thinking of doing the course, I would say just go for it, because there is never going to be a good time. If you want to do it, get started, and each day will take care of itself. Just make sure you’re doing it for you.

“Now that I’m graduating I do feel a massive sense of accomplishment. I’m really proud of myself, especially as I got a distinction. To get a Masters at the age of 49 isn’t bad going!”

Find out more about postgraduate courses at USW

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