By Chantelle Collier
I applied to go to university quite late on in the year, as far as the application process goes. Normally things are all done, dusted and sent off to UCAS by mid-January. At that point last year, the only things on my radar were recovering from eating my body weight in selection boxes and relaxing after yet another wonderfully busy and bonkers Lush Christmas (I was a supervisor there in my previous life). It was only by chance that I was chatting to a friend months later who happened to already be a nurse, and she mentioned that she thought I’d make a pretty good one. I said I would have loved to, had wanted to for years in fact, but couldn’t. She asked why not, and well, one thing led to another, and it turns out I actually could.
I had no idea that nursing degrees were one of a few exception courses with Student Finance England and as such, would be entirely funded even if you’d already had your allotted three years finance. I called them to confirm. Called them three times and spoke to three different people, in fact, because I could not believe what I was hearing. And then I put the phone down and cried. A lot. Turns out it is quite scary when the dream you thought was completely unachievable and you had put out of your mind starts to become a distinct possibility. Could I do this? I could do this! But, oh, heck. I am thirty-three years old, and I am not in a bad place financially speaking, am I? I mean, it is not great. But it is stable, it’s alright. I have a job I actually really enjoy. That I am pretty good at. In a company I love, with people I love. And I just assumed I would be settled here pretty much forever, and I am thinking about going back to being a student again? What about the kids? Is it too late?
… I could do this.
So, I hit the ground running with my application sometime in late spring. I hurriedly gathered academic certificates and put together a personal statement and attended an interview day and then before I knew it I had left everything I knew at work on the Friday, started my degree on the Monday and it was all go from there. Lots of excitement. Lots of learning, lots of getting used to a new normal with lectures and tutorials and assignments and clinical skills and study routines. It was difficult, but there were many especially clear moments where I would think, “this is where I’m meant to be”. I connected with some incredible people within my cohort (and have found even more since) who are the most wonderful support and I know will be friends for life. There were more “I can do this” moments when I started receiving marks back for my assignments and I began allowing myself to believe that not only could I do this, but I could also maybe, perhaps, if I worked hard, do it quite well.
And then there was my first placement in January 2020. It seems a lifetime ago, and yet it seems like it was only yesterday. Being able to consolidate all of the theoretical knowledge I had gained over the previous months and to be on a hospital ward, learning from a team of incredible nurses, doctors, auxiliaries and other members of multidisciplinary teams. I loved it. My first placement was incredibly fast paced, incredibly busy and at times somewhat overwhelming, but with unbelievable learning opportunities and I took every single one with both hands and got stuck into whatever I could. I did not want it to end.
… I can do this.
But end it did. And then almost immediately after, the world was in the grip of a global pandemic. The university campus was closed, all teaching was delivered via pre-recorded lectures and Zoom meetings and first year students were stood down from further clinical placements. After months of engaging lectures, the excitement of learning new skills in a top-notch simulated clinical environment on campus, the back-and-forth of smaller group discussions within tutorials and things just generally seeming to speed along at a hundred miles an hour, everything just kind of… stopped.
And it was really difficult to get that momentum going again, because no matter how lovely the lecturers are and how much they are available via e-mail and telephone and no matter how many Zoom meetings you have and although you know everyone is trying their best and you do not fault it, and although as time went on things got better and we learned how to adapt… it is just not the same, is it? You have your WhatsApp groups (and thank goodness we did! I do not know what I would have done without my fellow colleague’s support!), but you do not have your lecture theatre chat and your coffee dates and your lunchtime rituals. You have the dining room table commandeered as your study space, but it is not your favourite seat on the sixth floor of the library and instead of gorgeous views over the city you have Teen Titans blasting through from the living room as you are trying to get those last 300 words done…
It has taken a long time, but things are slowly, slowly creeping back towards some sense of normalcy. I can meet friends in person again. I can book a seat in the library to study, and the university is starting to make more spaces on campus available, too. Kids are back at school. We have finally been back on clinical placements, and we are getting into the swing of things once more.
I pushed through. And I wanted to remind myself why I pushed through. Why I will keep pushing through no matter what these next eighteen months might throw my way. Why this is so important to me. Side note: I am halfway through already?!
NURSING MAKES A DIFFERENCE
I love to care; it is really as simple as that. I am completely and utterly drawn to it. As a student nurse, and as a registered nurse, I have and will always have the opportunity to help people at their most vulnerable. We are caretakers. We are also friends, confidants and advocates, with the incredible privilege of helping those when, for whatever reason, they cannot help themselves. I have already, even at this early stage, connected with people on such an intimate and personal level, whilst they were going through intense physical and emotional struggles. There will be many, many more to come. The myriad of ways I interact with these individuals will make a lasting impression and a real difference to their care experience. I get to understand people in a holistic sense, and take care of their physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs, appreciating the intricacies of each and how they weave together to create a whole. I can give of myself in a way that no other profession would allow and go home at the end of each day feeling like I’ve made a difference.
I LOVE PEOPLE
I really, genuinely, love people. What makes people the way they are? What causes them to behave in certain ways? What are their opinions? What do they love? What makes them tick? I love people, and I love their stories. As a nurse, I will get to know so many of them. I will have the privilege of learning wisdom from them and of laughing and crying with them.
NURSING OFFERS INCREDIBLE CAREER FLEXIBILITY
There are endless paths I can take within nursing. It is a respected profession that is constantly evolving, which equals a long and sustainable career. No two days are ever completely alike, and I will always face new challenges. With countless work environments and specialties to choose from, I am free to develop myself as a nurse in any which way I choose. And I will always have job security and stability.
I WILL ALWAYS BE LEARNING
I want to be inspired by my work. I want diversity, and I love to learn. Nursing offers endless opportunities to expand my knowledge (in fact, this is a requirement of continuing registration). As medical science moves on, so too does the world of nursing and the need to implement new care practices. No matter what setting I find myself in, there will always be new patients, new families, new colleagues, new challenges to my critical thinking skills and new opportunities for growth.
… I can do this.
And you? You can do this, too.