Registered Nurse Degree Apprentices share their stories for National Apprenticeships Week 2020

Posted: 03/02/20

Blonde white woman in a nursing uniform talking on a sofa with an elderly woman of colour wearing a bright yellow top; they are both smiling.

We spoke to some of the people completing their Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeships while working for Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, to find out what attracted them to the qualification and how they’re finding the experience…

James Hall: I’ve had ambitions to complete a degree in nursing for half a decade. I used to be a journalist, but ended up working in community care for a regular income. As I got to know the individuals I was working with, I realised how much I enjoyed helping others to live a fulfilling and happy life. I decided from these experiences that I really wanted a career in nursing.

I couldn’t afford to go back to university to do a nursing qualification on my own. I got my first Nursing Assistant job with CNTW, and got involved with lots of projects such as Talk 1st and Star Wards (projects run by the Trust to reduce violence, aggression and restrictive interventions on wards) and men’s health clinics. When the Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship was launched I applied at once, hoping for the best. Luckily I was successful and started a new chapter in my life and career!

My main duties are still in my role as Nursing Assistant, delivering therapeutic interventions for patients. However, as I learn and become more competent, it’s almost like being half-way between my original role, as a Nursing Assistant, and a Staff Nurse. I’ve been able to stretch myself a bit, working beyond my role to support the qualified staff. I’m enjoying developing new skills and taking them back to my ward to assist colleagues more.

It is incredibly hard working a full-time job and completing the academic work, but the rewarding feeling and sense of achievement makes it all worthwhile. I’ve taken on so many new challenges, and met new people from across different NHS Trusts and services.

The best thing about the apprenticeship is receiving a comprehensive education in nursing for free, which I couldn’t have gained otherwise. This leads to not only a professional registration at the end, but also a Bachelor of Science degree. It will set me up for a career for life.

Matthew Fairclough: I began as a volunteer for the Trust, before moving on to a paid position as a full-time Peer Supporters. This involves working alongside Care Coordinators and Consultant Psychiatrists within our busy Community Treatment Team, to support the people under the team’s care.

Although I love this role, the Trust offered me the unmissable opportunity to join the Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship course while still supporting the team as a Peer Support Worker. This is opening up a much wider range of career progression opportunities for me. Without this opportunity to learn and earn at the same time, I wouldn’t have been able to undertake this level of training.

I am now six months into the four-year course, and am already learning a lot. I really like the apprenticeship as it allows me to put what I’ve learned into practice straight away, rather than waiting to finish training and secure a job.

Juggling learning and work has been a big learning curve! I am finding that planning is key, not only to completing the coursework alongside a full-time job, but also for maintaining my own mental health and wellbeing. My manager and my team in general are so supportive and encouraging, which has been a huge help. The University staff are also very understanding, and the course has been specifically designed with the Nursing and Midwifery Council to ensure that all requirements are met while recognising that we are not traditional full-time nursing students.

The thing I’ve enjoyed most about my apprenticeship is being a positive role model to the people I support at work. My progression from volunteering to now taking on this higher qualification helps me to show them that becoming unwell doesn’t have to be the end of your life or your career.

Marie Hunter: I used to work as a nursery nurse but wanted to do nurse training for years. While working as a nursery nurse I did an access to higher education course with the goal of going to university to study for a degree. Once I completed the course I decided it would be better to gain some experience in healthcare first and was offered a nursing assistant post with CNTW.

It wasn’t long after I secured this job that the nursing bursary was stopped and I realised I would no longer be able to study for a degree; I simply couldn’t afford it. I am a mature student and have a mortgage, bills and a family to consider. I thought my dream of becoming a registered mental health nurse was over.

When I found about the Registered Nurse Apprenticeship Degree I was over the moon; my dream was possible again!

Since starting the apprenticeship, I have been able to develop my skills and combine my existing knowledge with what I’m learning. Knowing I can achieve my goal without financial worry is an amazing feeling and means I can focus on my training more.

The best thing about it is the opportunity it can bring for mature students. Anyone can do an apprenticeship, they’re not just for young people! I also enjoy the practical elements such as the OSCEs (Objective Structural Clinical Examination) which allow you to develop your skills with ex patients in a safe environment.

Thanks to the apprenticeship, I have been able to experience new areas of mental health and it’s been a pleasure to meet other future mental health nurses who are passionate about the care we provide.

Juggling work with my apprenticeship has been a challenge but if you plan your shifts right and make sure you’re organised, a work-life balance is achievable.

April Robson: I currently work on Aidan Ward in Bamburgh Clinic which is an adult acute admissions ward. I have worked here for two and a half years. Prior to this, I worked on Bridgewell Ward at Hopewood Park where I was a healthcare assistant looking after individuals with complex care needs.

I chose to do the Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship to progress my career and become a qualified nurse. Having worked as a nursing assistant, I realised that this would benefit both myself and the patients I care for. My apprenticeship allows me to do my day job and get paid my usual salary which is really important for me and my family.

One of my favourite parts of the apprenticeship is the placements in different clinical areas. I have been able to meet new people and develop my own knowledge in a variety of diagnosis and psychiatric presentations. The apprenticeship course has influenced the holistic care I give to patients and changed the way I approach certain situations.

I have been able to develop my skills and gain a better understanding of mental illness and how it can affect an individual.

The training can be intense but the support I have received from the Academy and my base ward has helped massively. Obviously having a salary and no university fees is a huge bonus as well. I’m one year into my four year course and can honestly say the amount of knowledge I have gained has been vast.

It hasn’t been easy learning and working at the same time! My husband and family have been a huge support which has allowed me to give 100% to my studies. I’m not an academic person and have had to really apply myself. During the first few months there were occasions when I questioned if I was doing the right thing but now that I’m a year in I know I definitely have!

We’ll be sharing the stories of apprentices from across our Trust throughout National Apprenticeships Week 2020 (3-9 February). You can find out more about our apprenticeships here or email [email protected]

You can follow our Apprenticeships team @CNTWapprentices on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with their latest news and opportunities.