Sharon has wanted to be a nurse since leaving school, upon attending one of our open days and excelling in her interview she finally had the opportunity to study to become the nurse she'd always dreamed of.

What brought you to want to study at university?

When I was asked at a school during a careers and guidance lesson what I wanted to do the answer was simple, I wanted to be a nurse. I never wavered from this decision through school and college. Unfortunately, following the interviewing process it was decided that I was not a suitable candidate. I did not have a good support network at the time, so I resigned myself to giving up on my goal. I have had several different jobs and among them was care work. I enjoyed it but I wanted more so I trained as a spa/holistic therapist so I could continue helping people feel well.

Why did you choose Cumbria?

An opportunity came up to attend an open day at the University of Cumbria which highlighted Learning Disability Nursing. It was an amazing experience, speaking to past students and service users, it felt like I belonged. I was offered an interview and was accepted onto the course. After the initial shock, I reflected on my first nursing interview, (reflecting does become second nature very quickly as a student nurse), learning disability nursing was the pathway I had initially chosen 30 years ago, it had a very different title at that time.

What is the most difficult thing you’ve overcome in your education journey so far?

Being a mature student alongside some younger, brighter, more academic students was daunting. I hadn't written an essay for a long time. Referencing sources was confusing and standing up in front of other people to present my work made me anxious. One of the biggest personal hurdles that I managed to overcome was driving. By facing these fears with support, I grew and become stronger. I failed an essay in my first year and I did not cope with it well. I took the feedback personally and hit a low point. It took me time to realise that the feedback was there to help. I took advantage of the academic skills service to improve my writing. As for the driving, placement forced me to face that fear and on my final placement, I was able to be more independent and autonomous with my caseload.

What was the breakthrough moment for you when things began to fall into place?

At height of the pandemic, I was one of the students that opted-in to support the NHS. I was allocated to an inpatient mental health unit, it was one of my most challenging placements, but it made me realise how much learning disability nurses are needed in all health care settings. I was able to assist the staff to improve their support for a young lady with a moderate learning disability.

Academically, things started to make more sense once I accepted that failing something is not the end of the world but a chance to improve. Feedback is constructive, not destructive. Asking for and seeking assistance is not a weakness, in fact as a future nurse it will make me a better team member. Professionally the realisation that I was able to make the decision on the outcome of an assessment and provide the evidence to support it was such a proud moment, I was being listened to and valued as a health care professional.

An opportunity came up to attend an open day that highlighted Learning Disability Nursing. It was an amazing experience, speaking to past students and service users, it felt like I belonged

What are your top tips for anyone else thinking of going to university?

For any future students, there are so many tips I could give but if I look back there are some that I wish I had been given.

  • Ask questions, there may be others too shy to ask. Be brave.
  • Practise self-care. Be kind to yourself and access any help you need before you reach crisis point.
  • Talk to your tutors, practice supervisors and assessors, they are not as scary as they seem. I came close to quitting, but the support of the tutors and fellow students pulled me through.

What have you achieved so far?

At the age of 52 I am at the end of my degree, everything complete, waiting for the final verification of my classification and then my pin and I can call myself a nurse. Not just any nurse, A LEARNING DISABILITY NURSE!

How has studying at the University of Cumbria changed you?

When I compare myself to the person that started out, I can see so many changes. I am more confident in my abilities, I am willing to fight for the people I support, I still get nervous when I have to talk to a large group but I am able to channel the energy rather than allow it to exhaust me. I hardly recognise myself.

What do you most like about studying at Cumbria? 

Although the workload seemed large, I enjoyed the learning opportunities. We learnt how we can improve the lives of the people we support, reducing health inequalities and eventually putting the theory into practice. No words can describe the feeling that comes from knowing you are making a difference in the life of another person. The changes we make may be little, but the impact can be immense. As part of a very small cohort I have made some very good friends who have been there when I needed them, we aim to keep in touch regularly. 

Have you got a job lined up for the end of your course?

In September, I will be taking up a post as a staff nurse on a Dementia and Older Adults Unit. The staff are supportive and there is a preceptorship so I will have guidance as transition from novice to eventual expert. I am already looking at taking up an extended role as a tissue viability link practitioner.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think the only thing left to say is thank you to the University of Cumbria for helping me realise my dream. Sarah Duffin (Learning Disability Nursing Lecturer), I would like to thank you for believing in me and seeing that I had the correct values and for the support when I was wavering.

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