Academic, clinical and personal experiences of undergraduate healthcare students during the COVID-19 pandemic: A prospective cohort study

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Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 has impacted upon the role and safety of healthcare workers, with the potential to have a lasting effect on their wellbeing. Limited research has been conducted during previous pandemics exploring how student healthcare workers are impacted as they study and train for their professional careers. Objective: The aim of the current study was to examine the specific impact of COVID-19 on the academic, clinical and personal experiences of healthcare students. Method: Undergraduate students across three year groups within the School of Health Sciences at Ulster University completed online Qualtrics surveys at three timepoints during one academic year (2020/2021). Quantitative survey data was downloaded from Qualtrics into SPSS Version 25 for descriptive analysis of each cross-sectional sample. Qualitative survey data was downloaded into text format, which was thematically analysed using content analysis. Results: 412 students completed the survey at Time 1 (October 2020), n = 309 at Time 2 (December 2020) and n = 259 at Time 3 (April 2021). Academically, the pandemic had mostly a negative impact on the learning environment, the development of practical skills, the assessment process and opportunities for peer learning and support. Students reported increased stress and challenges managing their workload and maintaining a sense of motivation and routine. Clinically, they felt unprepared by the university for placement where the pandemic had an increasingly negative impact over time on learning and skill development. In terms of personal experiences, despite the majority of students taking steps to keep physically and mentally well, negative impacts on friendships, mental wellbeing and concerns for family were reported. The pandemic had not impacted upon career choice for most students. Conclusion: Consideration must be given to the development of practical skills so students feel prepared for their professional careers given the practical nature of their roles. Programme coordinators should adopt a holistic approach to student wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0271873
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Early online date27 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 27 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: © 2022 McFadden et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • Research Article
  • Biology and life sciences
  • Social sciences
  • Medicine and health sciences
  • People and places
  • Research and analysis methods
  • Pandemics
  • Prospective Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Students
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • COVID-19 - epidemiology
  • COVID-19


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