A former student nurse of the year nominee who champions autism awareness was recognised with a special award at her graduation last week.
Diana Heyes, from Morecambe, was nominated for the award by her peers, which she was presented at her graduation ceremony in Carlisle Cathedral.
She was recognised for going the extra mile and for organising training events in addition to the standard nursing programme.
Stand-out activities include inviting autism awareness campaigner, Paula McGowan, to speak to students about her campaign for all doctors and nurses to receive mandatory training in autism and learning disability awareness, following the tragic death of her teenage son.
Diana played a pivotal role organising the event, which some of her peers said was the highlight of their student journey.
“It was a real surprise. To be considered and then nominated is a real honour. I organised the extra events and training sessions because I enjoy it and I am passionate about what I do but I never expected special recognition for it.
“It does make me feel quite emotional to think that people think I deserve an award.
“I know that a lot of people really enjoyed the event around reasonable adjustments for people with learning disabilities, at which Paula McGowan and learning together northwest spoke. The reactions and the feedback received were phenomenal,” she said.
Commenting on this, she said: “There was never any doubt that Paula would achieve her goal. After meeting her and listening to her, it was clear that she would not give up her fight.
“I think it is important that training is of good quality and regularly reviewed and updated. This is important not only in the driving up standards of care, but also in maintaining Oliver’s legacy.”
This is not the first time that Diana has been up for an award. Earlier this year, Diana was nominated for the coveted Nursing Times’ Inspirational Nurse of the Year.
She was nominated for excelling in her course despite overcoming huge challenges in her personal life.
For before Diana began her studies, she escaped an abusive partner with her family of three children, two of whom have autism.
It was only once her children had grown-up that Diana felt she could pursue a new career and became the first person in her family to go to university.
While studying learning disabilities nursing at the University of Cumbria, she set up an adult autism social group in Morecambe and organised a two-day awareness event, which lead to her supporting other nursing students and creating a learning disability nursing and autism society.
Jo Marshal, Senior Lecturer in Learning Disabilities Nursing was Diana’s lecturer throughout her training.
She said: “We are so pleased for Diana. She has worked hard over the three-year programme and deserves this award for her commitment to supporting people with a learning disability, autism and their families.
“Diana has a 'can do' attitude and developed several events to raise awareness of the challenges for people with a learning disability and autism and their families. This award recognises her role running an autism support group for the local community.”
Diana is currently working as a community learning disability nurse with the south Cumbria adult team in Barrow-in-Furness. She knew quite early on in her studies that she wanted to be a community nurse.
“I absolutely love my job. My team is really supportive, we all work together to provide the best outcomes for people with learning disabilities and, or autism. I feel as though I can really make a positive difference to people, their families and their carers.”
On her highlights from the course she said:
“Meeting new friends from all over the country and the world. It was unexpected, especially when you meet people the same age as your children, and yet you find that you have a real bond with them as you’ve had this shared experience together.”
In the future, Diana’s thinking of post-graduate studies but not before she enjoys a well-earned holiday