Queen’s University Belfast: Student graduates with PhD while overcoming illness and supporting ICU patients during pandemic

After graduating with a nursing degree from Queen’s in 2004, Leona Bannon worked in the Royal Victoria Hospital Regional Intensive Care Unit for 11 years before being awarded a Doctoral Fellowship Award from the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland in 2015 to research delirium in critically ill patients.

She was invited to John Hopkins hospital in Baltimore where she completed an observership. Over the course of her PhD studies, Leona was invited to present at several national and international conferences and was awarded best research paper in 2018 from the Australian Critical Care journal just before giving birth to her daughter Helena in 2018.



Her introduction to motherhood was complicated. Following the birth, she spent a week in hospital separated from her baby having developed eclampsia. Still determined to complete her PhD, Leona continued to write her thesis while visiting specialists to investigate her post-partum seizure.

Following consultations with an endocrinologist, Leona was diagnosed with Thyrotoxicosis and Graves’ disease in 2019.

Overcome with fatigue, Leona was forced to take some time off from her PhD but in March 2020 she went back as a surge nurse to ICU to help during the first wave of the Covid-19 crisis.

During 2020, Leona received significant support from her supervisory team and continued to write her thesis while also managing her ongoing health issues.

She submitted her thesis in 2021 and is delighted to now be graduating with a PhD in Medicine.

Leona says: “I wanted to share my story because it illustrates the true nature of Queen’s and the understanding and empathy that was shown to me by the staff, my supervisors and colleagues.

“They supported my withdrawal periods and had amazing patience with me. Knowing that I have achieved my doctorate despite all of the challenges makes me feel incredibly proud and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband, supervisors, PhD colleagues, friends and family.”

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