Nursing studies

An apprenticeship has helped restart my nursing career

Michelle Simpson had to give up her degree due to financial pressure but is now able to earn as she learns

Michelle Simpson had to give up her degree due to financial pressure but is now able to earn as she learns

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I am doing a nursing associate apprenticeship at Kettering General Hospital in Northamptonshire.

The apprenticeship is run by Northamptonshire Health and Care Partnership (NHCP), a group of leading health and care providers in the county who are promoting a broad range of apprenticeships in health and care roles.

These includes nursing apprenticeships, which offer an alternative pathway into nursing without the debt that comes with going to university, as the training is fully funded.

Removing the bursary

The removal of the NHS bursary in 2017 for nursing students in England saw a significant drop in applications for nursing degrees. According to figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the number of English applicants was 29,290 in 2018, compared to 33,810 in 2017 and 43,800 in 2016.

Although this year’s UCAS figures show numbers in England are up slightly to 34,030, this is still well below the 2016 figure, the last full year the nursing bursary was available in England.

Money worries

I have always wanted to be a nurse. Several years ago, I started an adult nursing degree at De Montfort University, but I struggled financially without an income whilst studying full time. When it got to the stage where I couldn’t focus on my training because of money worries, I decided to leave the course and got a job as a healthcare assistant at Kettering General Hospital.

A year later, I was browsing the hospital’s social media platform when I came across a new apprentice scheme to study for a foundation degree (level 5) as a trainee nursing associate.

An apprenticeship seemed like an ideal way to further my career in healthcare without having to give up work and my income, so I decided to apply and was successful. As a trainee nursing associate, I am now in a role where I am earning while I am learning, which is amazing.

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Back on track

I felt like my career had stalled, but this alternative route into nursing has got it back on track. It will enable me to complete a foundation degree without the debt of university.

I am training on an acute medical ward, caring for a variety of patients with multiple conditions. My role is to bridge the gap between healthcare assistants and registered nurses.

My main task is to shadow the nurses on the ward to learn how to care for patients, including monitoring vital signs and understanding when a patient is at risk of their condition deteriorating. I will also learn how to manage medication as part of my course. 

Study and reflection

I spend one week a month away from the ward, studying with my peers on the nursing associate course at Northampton University. 

I find this time valuable – it enables me to reflect on what I have learned over the past three weeks, and although university is not a holiday, it is nice not having to do 12-hour shifts. There are around 25 of us in my cohort from three different trusts. It’s great to get together every month, learning from each other and hearing about each other’s experiences.

Although working full-time while studying for a degree has its challenges, having a wide support network around me makes things a bit easier. 

There is always someone to turn to if I have a question or concern, and I have mentors on the ward where I spend most of my time as well as mentors when I’m on placement. I also have a supportive course leader based at Kettering General and a personal academic tutor at university.

Highly recommended

Doing an apprenticeship has enabled me to finally fulfil my career ambitions. I have gained many important skills and experiences, and I would highly recommend the scheme to anyone keen to develop their career in healthcare. 

I have a year left of my apprenticeship course, but I won’t stop there. I plan to take up the opportunity to develop my skills further and become a band 5 nurse, so I can continue to progress my career in the health service.

Find out more

Northamptonshire Health and Care Partnership

Michelle Simpson is a trainee nursing associate at Kettering General Hospital

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