The Duchess of Cambridge has praised a group of student nurses soon to join the profession telling them they were “needed now more than ever”.

Kate and William chatted to the trainees during a practical lesson and the duke sympathised with the group who took part in hospital placements during the coronavirus pandemic, saying: “That’s really baptism by fire.”

At the start of the first lockdown, the students from Ulster University’s School of Nursing joined the frontline fight against Covid-19 working on wards or in the community.

The Cambridges chat to (L-R) Stephanie Dunleavey, lecturer from the School of Nursing, Ulster University and Year 3 nursing students Lisa Semerdzhieva, Rachel Reid and Paige Murray (Kensington Palace/PA)

Speaking during a video call held on Tuesday, the duchess said: “Nursing is one of the most trusted professions in the country, so you couldn’t have chosen a better career choice and it’s needed now more than ever.

“You’ve got almost three generations now – those coming back from retirement but also you guys doing your training who are stepping up – it shows real commitment and real teamwork, and it should really be celebrated, so really well done.”

The three students were stood around a dummy in a bed being supervised by lecturer Stephanie Dunleavey as they assessed the mock-patient.

William told the trainees: “It’s very difficult for you guys to go straight into a pandemic I would imagine, that’s really baptism by fire as they say, isn’t it?”

Lisa Semerdzhieva, a Year 3 nursing student, replied: “Yes, right, although it was frightening at the start, you know, you really want to go out more.

William and Kate share a joke with student nurse Abigail McGarvey (Kensington Palace/PA)

“Now you can’t wait to get back out and practise, to feel like you’re helping, you know, because that’s what we were born to do really.”

The Cambridges also chatted separately to Abigail McGarvey, a first-year adult nursing student who has kept a video diary to illustrate a typical shift during her first placement as a student nurse.

In footage she is seen getting up for a night shift, travelling to work and putting on personal protective equipment (PPE) of a mask, apron, gloves and visor – later she puts on higher-grade protection for working with Covid-19 positive patients.

William asked if training in a pandemic had changed her thoughts on becoming a nurse, and the student replied: “It has really confirmed that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life – this is the job I was meant to do.”

She added the pandemic meant families were not able to visit and support their loved ones so “you have to give them so much more”.

Ms McGarvey, whose grandmother, mother and sister are all nurses, said: “My first day on the wards I showed up and within a few hours there was a massive cardiac arrest.

“And seeing everything just go up in the air, and how the team comes together, and how everyone is really working to look after these patients – it really just solidified that this is exactly what I want to do.”