Learning Disability Week – Joanne’s story

Posted: 19/06/24

Registered nurse associate Joanne Taylor always knew she wanted to work with people with learning disabilities.

“My mam’s sister had learning disabilities and spent 43 years at Northgate Hospital,” she explained.

“She was admitted as a child and lived there for her entire life. She passed away at Northgate but lived a really fulfilling and happy life.”

Joanne visited her aunty in hospital every week.

“I was familiar with Northgate and the patient group and what learning disability nursing entails. When I was 18, I applied for a job at Northgate and have worked here ever since.”

Joanne has now worked for the Trust for nearly 18 years. She was a nursing assistant for 10 years and then an assistant practitioner for five years before moving into her current role.

She said: “I was offered learning disability training when I first started but it didn’t feel like the right time. Now that I’ve had my family and feel like I’ve honed my craft and got experience, I was ready to do my training.”

As a registered nurse associate, Joanne helps coordinate a busy autism ward. On a typical shift she does the meds rounds, liaises with families and carers and outside partners, and offers support to staff.

Joanne splits her role between working on the ward and university, doing two and a half shifts and one day at university a week.

She added: “The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) revised my role to become registered, so I have been able to convert from assistant practitioner to nursing associate through the Trust which I’m really grateful for.”

CNTW has enabled Joanne to do her nurse training through the University of Sunderland. She will qualify as a registered learning disability nurse in January 2026.

She says the support from the Trust has been invaluable.

“My line manager and colleagues have been so supportive. My manager’s happy to give me autonomy to plan my shifts around childcare, university and placements.”

Joanne will do placements in different areas across the Trust but autism services is where her passion lies.

“I find it so interesting,” she said. “It sounds cliché but no two days are the same.

“I’m really fortunate to work in this service. They have invested a lot into the career pathway and there’s clear progression. We are really encouraged to progress and are given training to develop. My dream would be to become a nurse consultant in the future.”

For Joanne, the best part of the job is seeing people get better.

“Progress can be slow in learning disability and autism services,” she said. “You have to celebrate the small wins.

“The hardest thing is communication and lack of understanding. Sometimes it’s difficult to know how best to deal with it. But when you see someone being discharged it makes all the tough days worth it.”

Joanne implores anyone who’s interested to go into learning disability nursing.

She said: “I don’t think you get the same experiences in adult care; it doesn’t challenge your practice like learning disability nursing does.

“Learning disability nursing keeps you on your toes. You have to be creative and think outside the box.

“It’s such a rewarding job. it has made me a better nurse and a better person.”