Learning at Work Week 2022

This year, for Learning at Work Week we look to Becky and Rachel - Demelza's first Band 4 Nursing Associates.

Becky shares her journey, from Healthcare Assistant to newly qualified Nursing Associate:

“I wasn’t actually convinced I’d get on the course – I applied on the off-chance, and ended up one of Demelza’s first two Nurse Associates!” That’s what Becky Bristow, our newly qualified Nurse Associate, had to say about her superb achievement when we sat down to speak to her about the Access to Nursing course.

“I’d been a Healthcare Assistant for 12 years with Demelza, and although I’d thought about going for a nursing qualification, I couldn’t put my family life on hold and quit my job to go on a course for however many years. That’s what made the Nurse Associate course with Demelza so attractive – the fact it’s an apprenticeship, so I was still able to be working with a proper income while also earning a new qualification.”

Studying through COVID-19

Becky is wearing her new, purple, Nursing Associate uniform, standing against a white wall.
Becky started the course back in early 2020, and although she attended Canterbury Christ Church University for a few months, COVID eventually shut the whole country down and her learning went online.

“It was difficult, obviously. We were on Zoom for our one uni day a week, but a lot of the time we couldn’t even have our cameras on because it messed with the connection; I made friends through group chats as you do, but it was really hard having basically no student-to-student interaction. A lot of people on the course I’ve only gotten to know now that it’s over and we’re qualified!”

Despite the unprecedented difficulties of studying through COVID, Becky made the most of her time on the course; working with the care team in and around our Kent Hospice, she logged valuable hours of real-world experience. “I got to continue doing Care at Home sessions, which involved going out to Demelza families and administering care in a comfortable environment; it just gives families a few hours of respite while we take care of their child’s complex needs for them. We work with the families to develop care plans, keep up to date on the child’s medications, and generally help ease the burden a little.”

“There were also days when I’d be at the hospice, and the nurses would basically say ‘okay, what do you need to learn today’ and I’d be able to shadow them and get the learning time I needed while they went about their duties.”

The care team also lent Becky a hand when it came to coursework. “Oh yeah, I sent them some essays” she laughed. “This is the first time in my life where I’ve had to write proper essays, and that was – at times – really daunting. But yeah, the nurses were always happy to look over a bit of coursework for me and tell me if I’d missed anything or if something could be worded more clearly. Everyone here was so supportive. I was really lucky because obviously some of the other students worked in hospitals – during full-blown COVID – and it would have been impossible to ask a nurse somewhere like that to take time out of their day to proofread an essay. It’s not like we were laid back here during COVID! But because we worked on a shift pattern, it was much easier to stick to my protected learning hours and make time for the theoretical stuff as well as the practical.”

Work placements

Becky also had the opportunity to do work placements through the course, giving her the chance to work in other healthcare settings and gain experiences she wouldn’t have had otherwise. “The Nurse Associate course covers all age groups, so my placements were really varied. I worked in a GP surgery, a care home working with dementia patients, I did some time with a local private hospital which I absolutely loved, and lastly with a community nursing team that offers support to people just coming out of hospital who need a bit of step-down care. Each one was totally different and they gave me a much broader understanding of healthcare generally speaking.”

Now that she’s qualified, Becky is excited to be able to take the strain off the nursing team, taking on things like initial patient assessments and drawing up care plans supported by a registered nurse. She is also planning on doing a preceptorship in the near future, where she will be mentored for 6-12 months by a senior member of staff, to reinforce the skills she learned on the course and gain more familiarity with the clinical care she is now able to provide. “People keep telling me to do the next 18 months and become a Registered Nurse – I know that’s possible but I’m saying ‘hang on, I’ve only just started this!’ I’m really excited to be a Nurse Associate because it’s a brand new and evolving role, and I get to be at the forefront of that. I’m not looking to the next thing yet, I want to see what this role can turn into.

“I would recommend the course to anyone who’s thinking about their next step in healthcare. I won’t lie and say it was easy, because it was a really hard two years, but now that it’s done it’s such an exciting position to be in."

"Demelza has been amazing as well, I can’t wait to see what my future with the charity looks like.”

Rachel Nurse Associate in East Sussex

Rachel’s journey to becoming a Nurse Associate

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

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.”