A newly-qualified doctor about to join the frontline in the battle against coronavirus has spoken about celebrating her graduation online after Queen's University Belfast announced it will not hold ceremonies on campus.
Dr Abbie Harte (24) studied for six years to achieve her medicine degree, which she was awarded via her laptop screen in a virtual celebration last Tuesday amid the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
A rite of passage for all university students, Dr Harte said the virtual ceremony was a memorable way to mark the end of her degree, despite not being the celebration she had dreamed of.
Queen's students due to graduate this year were informed of the change via email. The university has committed to holding further celebrations in the future to allow graduates to reflect on their achievements with family and friends.
Dr Harte said: "Although a traditional ceremony would be nice to mark the end of our medical degree and a lovely way to celebrate with close family and friends, I think that we are all extremely understanding of the current situation and why we weren't able to have a traditional ceremony.
"It wasn't the celebration we were all hoping to have, but it was a lovely day and I was able to celebrate with my close family to acknowledge the end of a challenging six years.
"It's definitely a small sacrifice to make, especially when you see how hard all key workers are working at the moment."
Dr Harte will soon join the fight against Covid-19 as she takes up a post in the Belfast trust months earlier than initially expected.
Final year medical students at QUB have been granted provisional registration earlier than normal to help ease the immense pressure facing local health professionals.
She continued: "Covid-19 has affected everyone, daily lives have changed and many plans and big celebrations have been cancelled.
"I am just grateful that myself and my colleagues have been able to graduate early and can start helping out wherever we can.
"It was lovely to see that the majority of final year students were happy to take up this position and will be starting over the next few weeks.
"It does seem very daunting to start working in such unusual circumstances, but I feel we will all be very well supported."
Newly-qualified doctors will take up posts in the hospitals alongside other clinicians where they completed their most recent placement.
This is because they have gone through the induction process and are familiar with the hospital environment, fellow staff and procedures.
However, they will not necessarily return to wards where they have worked previously as many services have been reconfigured in preparation for the coronavirus pandemic.
Legislation has also been developed to enable final-year student nurses within six months of registration to go into the NHS in a paid capacity.
Meanwhile, QUB law student Kristina Sundin-Maheral (31) said graduates deserve a traditional ceremony later this year to formally recognise their efforts.
Donning a gown and hat and taking to the stage to collect your degree is a huge motivation for students as they study for their exams, the Canadian woman said.
"Everyone was really looking forward to graduation, Queen's do it so well and it's such a prestigious event," she said.
"Queen's put on the nicest day, they do such a great job.
"However, it's understandable, there's no way with the current situation that it could go ahead in July with so many people.
"I was really happy to hear they are planning to do something in future."