Today, we are celebrating Becky and Rachel both of who have recently completed their Nursing Associates course to step up from a Band 3, Health Care Assistant to Band 4, Nurse Associates. At Demelza, we invest in our team’s development and the introduction of the new Nursing Associate role is one of the ways in which we are doing this.

We caught up with Rachel to find out more about her experience of studying alongside working over the last couple of years.

Photo of an activity session at our East Sussex Community Building.

Rachel’s journey to becoming a Nurse Associate

Rachel is a long-time member of staff with Demelza, having been with us for 11 years as a Healthcare Assistant, and in February 2020 she decided she wanted to take the plunge and get her qualification to be a Nursing Associate – a relatively new but vital role working as part of the nursing team, bridging the gap between Healthcare Assistants and graduate nurses. An NA can provide most aspects of delivery and monitoring of care, enabling registered nurses to focus on complex clinical work.

“I wanted to move up from Band 3 to Band 4… after 11 years I sort of felt like I’d done everything as a Health Care Assistant!” she said. Her work day-to-day as a Health Care Assistant involves a lot of home visits, collecting the children she cares for from school and spending some activity time with them while making sure their medications are administered correctly.

Rachel works with children with serious or terminal conditions, delivering the clinical care needs of each child. “I love what I do, but I also wanted to gain more skills and progress in my career,” she went on to explain. “There is a shortage of Registered Nurses which is why the Nursing Associate role was created; working as a nursing associate will take some of the pressure off registered nurses as I will be able to provide nursing care under their leadership.”

The opportunity to do the course through Demelza, without having to put work or her family life on hold, was the push Rachel needed to commit. “I’ve tried doing the Access to Nursing course before, through college, but I’ve got three young children so it was really difficult to find the time. Doing it through Demelza has made it a lot easier because you can work while you’re actually learning… you only spend one day a week doing the traditional study at uni, then 30 hours a week working.”

That study didn’t exactly take the form Rachel expected; she only managed to attend university for a few weeks in person before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the country to a near-standstill, and everything moved online. “It was weird,” she laughed, “there were about 50 of us doing the course but I didn’t really feel like I could get to know anyone… it’s not like we could pop out and grab a coffee!” Nonetheless, Rachel forged ahead with both the written and practical parts of the course, working with the nursing team in Demelza’s East Sussex hospice to gain experience and confidence in her new role.
No two days looked the same over the course of the two years, and the work required Rachel to be as flexible as the families she worked with – due in part to the unprecedented challenges of care during the pandemic, some days she would be out and about, shadowing nurses and providing care where it was needed, others she would be working from home making contact with families in the community who were isolating, completing online learning and supporting other members of the team.

Despite feeling those extra pressures that COVID put on us all – and especially while working with vulnerable and immunocompromised families – Rachel was still able to carve out time around her shifts to work on her written assignments, thanks to the support of the wider team. “Demelza was so supportive… any time I had questions about an assignment, I knew I could send it to the nurses I was working with and they would chat to me about what they thought could be improved or anything I’d missed,” she said. “Other students I studied with were working in busy hospitals, and they found it much harder to carve out that extra time and attention… I was really lucky to do this through Demelza.”

Rachel also had access to real-world work placements through the Nursing Associate course; over the two-year process, she worked in a children’s hospital ward, a children’s burn unit, an A&E department, and as part of a District Nursing team. Although she is used to working in care – she’s put in 11 years at Demelza, after all! – these were great opportunities to step outside of her comfort zone and experience a much wider range of care settings than she was used to. Her words of advice for anyone enrolled on the course: “I’d definitely say make the most of your placements, the time goes so quickly! All of mine were totally different from what I normally do, and I wouldn’t have had those experiences if I hadn’t done the course.”

Rachel did such a great job despite the whirlwind of the past two years that the Demelza nurses she was working under nominated her for the Apprentice of the Year award, and she won! She’s very modest about it all – “I somehow managed to win it!” – but it’s clear that her dedication and love for the work really shone through, and our nurses thought that was something worth recognising.

Now that she’s at the end of her course, she’s just ready to crack on and get to work: “I haven’t done my first day as a Nursing Associate yet, but I’m really excited to get started so I can support the nurses and Healthcare Assistants.” She doesn’t want to get ahead of herself, but she does add that if she decided to go for a qualification as a Registered Nurse in future, the Nursing Associate course has given her a much clearer path to progress – instead of doing a full three years to qualify, she can instead do a two-year course “as sort of a top-up” to her new skill set and qualify that way.

“Overall I’d definitely recommend the course, it’s been great – it was a hard two years with a lot of work outside my working hours completing written work, but really rewarding. There’s more opportunities out there now for Healthcare Assistants to move up, I think it’s really good.”