My job

We should be building people up, not knocking them down

Former RCNi nursing student of the year Zoe Butler explains how she is using her new role as a university lecturer to inspire students

Former RCNi nursing student of the year Zoe Butler explains how she is using her new role as a university lecturer to inspire students


Zoe Butler is now a lecturer at Cumbria University

Former RCNi nursing student of the year Zoe Butler has landed a new post, becoming what many believe is the country’s youngest university lecturer. 

‘The expectations are quite scary and some people have said I’m a bit young,’ says Ms Butler, who is 22 and qualified as a nurse in summer 2017. ‘But there’s a benefit to that too. With the younger students, it’s almost saying, “if I can do it, you can too”. It inspires them to go forwards.’

As a lecturer in assistant practitioners in health and social care at Cumbria University – where she graduated – Ms Butler is teaching a variety of pre-registration students. This includes radiotherapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy students, alongside nursing.

‘The role is about guiding people onto the right career path, helping them find their route,’ she says.

Proving critics wrong 

But her appointment, which started in October, has attracted criticism from some quarters, with derogatory comments on social media calling her incompetent, incapable and stupid.

‘People expect someone with more experience, and I can understand that,’ says Ms Butler. ‘Some have said that because I haven’t practised for very long, I’m incapable of teaching.

‘Adolescent mental health will always be my passion. If you can help someone to look after their mental health at a young age, they will always have those coping mechanisms’

‘It was a blow at first, especially as I was settling in,’ she adds. ‘But it’s made me reflect a lot on what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. If I have the ability to help others reflect on their own practice, I feel I can do my job well.’

Ms Butler also believes it demonstrates an unpleasant side of the nursing profession. ‘It was interesting that all the negative comments on social media were anonymous. It shows quite a shocking culture that we, as a profession, need to address,’ she says.

‘When someone is trying to encourage people to come into the profession, we should be building them up, not knocking them down. But there have also been those saying I’ve inspired them. So now I’m just trying to prove the critics wrong.’

In the public eye

Ms Butler has been in the public eye since she won the Andrew Parker Student Nurse Award at the 2017 RCNi Awards, something she has sometimes found difficult.

‘It can be hard to deal with because people know your name and you just want to go about your day-to-day job,’ she says. But she also believes that winning the award was instrumental in gaining her new post. 

'Someone came up at the end of a class and said, “thank you very much, I really enjoyed it”. That’s what it’s all about'

‘It spurred me on. It brought me to this role because here I can help others to reach their potential too,’ she says.

Her recognition was achieved for her work on the Hot Potato project, which brings young people together to discuss their mental health issues, helping to build resilience.

‘Adolescent mental health will always be my passion,’ says Ms Butler. ‘If you can help someone to look after their mental health at a young age, they will always have those coping mechanisms.’

Theory and practice

She continues to be involved with the project, helping to develop learning resources and workshops that will take place in schools, and is also working a shift each week in trauma and orthopaedics at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.

‘It’s helping me to apply theory to practice,’ explains Ms Butler. ‘Time-management wise it’s challenging, but I’m enjoying it.’ 

Looking ahead, she is hoping to use her role to explore different teaching styles, the impact they have on students and whether more needs to be done to bridge the gap between theory and practical application.

‘I’ve already had someone say at the beginning of a session, “I’m not going to understand this”. And then you sit with them, go through it, and they say, “actually, this is achievable”,’ says Ms Butler.

‘Just the other day, someone came up at the end of a class and said, “thank you very much, I really enjoyed it”. That’s what it’s all about.’


Lynne Pearce is a health journalist

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