Class of 2021: Zoe Wager

Our class of 2021 really are something to shout about. They’ve overcome challenges, helped others, grasped opportunities and developed their skills, showing their Essex Spirit in so many ways. And they’ve done it all during a pandemic when student life has been changed beyond recognition. We couldn’t be prouder of them so we’re telling their stories.

  • Date

    Wed 14 Jul 21

Zoe Wager

Physiotherapy student Zoe Wager has faced her own health challenges as a student but that didn’t stop her from playing a crucial role in the NHS response to Covid-19.

Zoe, who is from Essex, has always wanted to work in medicine. After her initial plans to join the army as a medic fell through, she decided to tag along with friends attending an Essex open day. Now she’s leaving with a BSc Physiotherapy.

During her final year, she spent six weeks on placement in the Intensive Care Unit at Basildon Hospital supporting nursing staff and caring for patients.

“Sometimes I would be helping with proning or unproning patients. Other times I would be assessing and reviewing patients’ chests, listening to their chests, suctioning, and using manual techniques to help loosen and remove secretions. I would also help to maintain movements at patients’ joints.”

The placement came with significant challenges: “No amount of teaching could prepare you,” she said.

“We had 27 patients on an ITU that was supposed to hold 14. One week we lost 12 patients in three days. That was hard because although many of the patients are sedated you still become attached to them when you’re treating them daily. Seeing their family come to say goodbye is hard,” she added.

"My new life mantra is 'give it a minute'. No matter what is happening, if you give it a minute it will probably be okay."
Zoe Wager bsc physiotherapy

She says emotional burnout and exhaustion were the toughest things to deal with, but knowing she was part of a team helped keep her motivated.

“You’re taught throughout uni that it’s important to work as part of a team with the other professionals, but there I really saw it. Everyone - from consultants, nurses, physios, speech and language therapists, HCAs - everyone helped each other. And everyone tried to help each other maintain good spirits. People reassured you that you were doing a good job or what you were doing was worthwhile and it meant something. It was so important to have that.”

The experience has been a valuable learning experience: “My new life mantra is ‘give it a minute’. No matter what is happening, if you give it a minute it will probably be okay,” Zoe said.

Zoe, who’s looking forward to some well-earned rest between now and registering as a fully-qualified physiotherapist, faced her own personal challenges as a student: “The April before I began studying I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression and anxiety.”

She’s says talking and friends helped her manage her mental health: “I found being honest and open with my lecturers was best. They understood what was going on and how it would affect me and told me options I had if I was struggling. I’d also say having friends that you can talk to, they don’t even need to respond but just someone to listen to you.”

She’s got this advice for new students: “Look after yourself. You need to look after yourself, because otherwise you can’t look after anyone else. Do what you need to do to be okay and don’t compare yourself to anyone else on your course.”