Apprentices at an NHS Trust celebrate the official beginning of their five-year apprenticeship, the first of its kind in the country.
Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) announced last year that it was to be the first Trust to offer a mental health or learning disability nurse degree to aspiring nurses.
Now, there are 17 apprentices on the first cohort of the five-year Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship who are about to join the wards full time.
In conjunction with the University of Sunderland, the course offers apprentices paid employment and education through a combination of supernumerary learning and working in a nursing environment.
After eight weeks of getting to know the Trust and its services, the apprentices begin working on their chosen base ward this week. The base ward will be where the apprentices work when not on placements, allowing them to gain fundamental nursing skills.
Rachael Betty is an Education Support Nurse in the Trust’s Practice Education Team. Part of her role is to support the new cohort of apprentices.
She said: “We have been really impressed with the apprentices. They were all new to the Trust and have become a really cohesive group in a short space of time. They are proactive and we see them growing in confidence every day.”
Fellow Education Support Nurse, Patrick Hawksby, added: “The group have really hit the ground running. We help them in a pastoral role and always say there’s no such thing as a silly question. They’re all supportive of each other and have been sharing tips, which has been lovely to see.”
Ward managers have also been impressed by the apprentices so far, with many commenting on their proactivity, positive attitude, and willingness to get involved.
Over the course of five years, the Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship is an opportunity to earn and learn. Between working on inpatient wards across CNTW, apprentices also spend time at the University of Sunderland.
The apprenticeship aims to develop and keep nurses in the Trust, part of CNTW’s nursing strategy which supports a career development pathway from novice to expert.
Gail Bayes, Deputy Director of CNTW Academy Development, said: “The Academy is proud of its achievements to date with nursing apprenticeships and this new 5-year programme is another step in expanding the opportunities available. The recruits have done exceptionally well during their initial, paid work placements since October and have developed confidence and values-based attitudes which will form the foundations for their future success.”
Spending time on the base ward gives apprentices a greater understanding of how a ward works compared to other traditional degree programmes.
One apprentice said: “Being able to be there for patients and listen to their stories was lovely. I really enjoyed my experience.”
Another said: “Talking to staff on the wards has been a great insight and seeing the types of patients that get admitted onto the wards has been useful.”
Rachael and Patrick are looking forward to seeing the apprentices grow in confidence and knowledge.
“It’s been a real learning curve for everyone,” Rachael said. “We want to thank the wards and everyone who has been involved in the journey so far.”
Patrick added: “It’s been a difficult time on the wards but it’s testament to them that they have still taken the time to accommodate and welcome our apprentices.”
The apprentices are due to finish in January 2027 as fully qualified nurses.