Nurse apprenticeship scheme has offered me a route into dementia care
On leaving school two years ago, Megan Burrows had ‘absolutely no idea’ what she wanted to do.
But thanks to a place on one of the UK’s first integrated health and social care apprenticeship schemes, she is on a well-planned pathway to a nursing career. Ms Burrows’ decision to join a caring profession came after gaining a BTEC in media studies, then spending three months working as a volunteer in a remote Indian village.
She says: ‘Seeing how villagers’ health was affected by lack of clean water, sanitation and health care persuaded me to opt for a career that could make a difference to people’s lives.’
Megan Burrows on the ward at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital with deputy director of nursing Padraig O Luanaigh
On returning home to Norfolk – still unsure what shape her caring career would take – Ms Burrows secured one of six places on Health Education East of England’s (HEEoE) newly established health and social care apprenticeship pilot.
Launched last year, and supported by City College Norwich (CCN) in partnership with Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Norfolk County Council and Norfolk and Suffolk Care Support, the 12-month scheme enables apprentices to gain care qualifications while undertaking work experience. They work in acute hospital health and community social care settings within one apprenticeship framework.
Mentored, supervised, supported and assessed during two six-monthly placements in each sector, Ms Burrows and her five colleagues also receive regular tuition at CCN as part of a structured educational package leading to a level 2 qualification in health and social care and a Skills for Care certificate.
Having gained six months’ social care experience working in a local care home, Ms Burrows is now completing her acute health placement on a colorectal surgical ward at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
‘Meeting the needs of older care home residents was challenging at first because those with dementia needed a lot of care and support,’ she explains. ‘Fortunately, we had plenty of time to get to know residents and help them with meals and bathing while listening and talking with them. My monthly sessions at college also gave me useful information and skills on nutrition, how to move and handle patients, and communicate with those who have dementia.’
Describing her first days on a surgical ward as ‘a steep learning curve’, she says: ‘The pace of care was so much faster. For example, at the care home I could spend an hour helping each resident, while in hospital it was ten minutes maximum. But I love hospital ward work and can now carry out observations like blood pressure monitoring and some stoma care.’
She says hands-on experience in contrasting community and hospital settings has given her a realistic insight and understanding into health and social care and the skills you need to work in them.
Although aware she will ‘have to get her head down’ and study hard to become a nurse, she adds: ‘I have really enjoyed learning by doing practical tasks in different care settings rather than just reading about them. This method of learning has helped me work out what is best for patients and will hopefully make me a more caring, professional nurse in future.’
Commending Ms Burrows on being ‘a fast learner who relates well to older patients’, surgical ward sister Chris Wong welcomes the new pilot – out of which three apprentices will opt for a nursing career. ‘Gaining integrated experience in health and social care settings provides apprentices with a broader perspective and a better understanding of patients’ needs outside hospital,’ she explains. ‘This is good preparation for nursing, which can be a challenging profession today.’
Shortlisted for several awards and falling in line with the government’s long-term drive for closer co-operation between health, social services and community teams – as recommended in NHS England’s 2014 Five Year Forward View report, the HEEoE apprenticeship pilot:
Provides apprentices with broader experience, transferable skills and training via an integrated route before committing to a career choice.
On completion, offers a wider choice of potential employers and job opportunities at a greater variety of levels than conventional apprenticeships, such as care assistant, social work or nursing.
Aids recruitment and reduces future staff wastage by providing apprentices with a wide range of ‘hands-on’ skills and a ‘taster’ experience, ensuring they have realistic expectations of a chosen career in nursing or social care.
Provides flexible skills for future job opportunities within integrated health and social care teams.
RCN professional lead for education policy and practice Anne Corrin welcomes this pilot, saying: ‘At a time when the Department of Health is looking to innovative apprenticeship routes into nursing, I welcome schemes like this one that are carefully monitored, quality-assured by all stakeholders and include a strong pathway into university education.
‘Any new initiative which breaks down barriers and helps improve communication between health and social care services must be welcomed, particularly if it encourages suitable people into the nursing profession, who have had a realistic opportunity to see what they are letting themselves in for.’
Liz Bennett, manager of a Norwich care home that is involved in the pilot, says the apprenticeship has the ability to ‘provide future staff with a better overall understanding of the disruption a resident experiences when admitted into an acute care setting and then have to adapt to the home care setting’.
Meanwhile, as the pilot expands to four more areas of East Anglia, Ms Burrows has her eyes firmly fixed on autumn 2017, when she plans to start a degree in adult nursing.
‘I am excited about the future,’ she says. ‘My ward sister has offered me a healthcare assistant contract that I can undertake on completing this year’s apprenticeship until I begin a 12-month university access course at City College Norwich in September, which will hopefully lead to a university place. Once I’ve qualified as a nurse, I would like to specialise in dementia nursing.’