More than 600 final-year nursing and midwifery students have joined the fight against Covid-19 by joining the health and social care workforce early.
The students, all in the final six months of their pre-registration education at Ulster University, Queen's University Belfast and the Open University, have chosen to take their final clinical placement now.
Among them is Odhran O'Brien (20), from west Belfast, a student of adult nursing at Queen's University.
He did not hesitate before signing up to the scheme.
"It's not what we expected when we started out on our course, but then this isn't a situation anyone here expected to be in," the former De La Salle pupil said.
"We're finishing a few months early, but all our lectures have been completed. There were only two placements to finish. We're ready.
"Yes, it'll be a baptism of fire, but when we were offered an opt-in or out, every single person in my class said they wanted to be part of this.
"We're all proud to be able to do it.
"There's a bit of sadness that the course is finished early.
"We had to cancel our formal and there are no end of term parties, but this is what we have been trained to do and we're never going to be any more prepared to step in and help in any way we can.
"I'll be starting in Musgrave (Park Hospital) on Friday and I'm looking forward to the challenge.
"I know everyone else in my class is as well.
"We've been very well briefed on what to expect. While we may come across one or two Covid-19 patients, we're going to be there to support the staff with other treatments, to free up as many as possible to deal with this emergency.
"I suppose my family are excited for me and nervous at the same time. They ask all the time about what's going on, but they're all 100% behind me and what I'm doing."
Chief Nursing Officer Professor Charlotte McArdle paid tribute to the nursing and midwifery students who stepped forward.
"It is highly commendable that students are embracing the opportunity to help at this time of great need," she said.
"As senior students, I know they have much to offer and will be a valuable asset to our system.
"I wish to extend a personal thank you to all nursing and midwifery students and assure them of my full support as they rise to this challenge."
Universities have been working hard over the past few weeks to prepare their students for their early entry into the workforce.
This has included an update on clinical skills such as assessment of deteriorating patients, with emphasis on airway and respiratory management, alongside professional issues in practice for the transition from student to registrant.
Professor Sonja McIlfatrick, head of the School of Nursing at Ulster University, said there was a real sense of pride as the final-year nursing students stepped up to the challenge.
"Entering the workforce early, they will be using the skills and knowledge they have learned at Ulster to work alongside colleagues and frontline staff to deliver high-quality patient care," she said.
Professor Donna Fitzsimons, the head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen's University, added: "Queen's is committed to helping in whatever way possible to fight Covid-19 and its spread. We are incredibly proud of our nursing and midwifery students, who have stepped up to assist in this challenge by entering the workforce early to provide much-needed support for the system during these difficult few months."