MBE, Registered Nurse Independent Consultant & Coach
I had grown up in a challenging household and this contributed to a difficult experience of secondary school. My parents got divorced when I was in the second year of seniors and we were very poor which made life pretty hard for me, my brother and sister. My mother was a registered nurse and I admired her very much and definitely adopted her passion for caring for others. I struggled through school; I found the whole system very strict and harsh and I didn’t enjoy learning at all. Looking back now I realise that the trauma and stress had impacted on my self-esteem and my ability to learn.
When I was sitting my final exams, I really didn’t do my best, I remember thinking that it wasn’t worth trying. When I received my results, I had very low grades and fails in most subjects, however I did manage to scrape through and achieve ‘C’ Grade O Level in English. This enabled me to go to college and take higher level study in English coupled with a ‘Cadet Nursing’ course in the hope that I might get a place on the student nurse pathway.
The college where I studied had an excellent arrangement in place with the local hospital to send Cadet Nurses to volunteer for 3 hours a week initially, then increasing to 3 hours twice a week as part of the programme. This was really good for me because it combined formal teaching/learning in the classroom with the opportunity to have practical experience. I was just 16 years old and lacked confidence so volunteering as part of my course really helped me to build my confidence over time. Specifically, I had to organize my travel, navigate a busy hospital to get to the agreed volunteer placement, make relationships with staff and learn the tasks that I was supported to do.
I remember how daunting it all seemed, and how nervous I was. The Ward Sister was very authoritative and welcoming, and was very pleased to have Cadet Nurses on the Ward. I remember Sister talking to my group of volunteers and being very clear about our roles and boundaries.
I hadn’t thought about this experience as being a volunteer as it was such an integral part of the Cadet Nurse programme. The wards really looked forward to our volunteering sessions and made us feel like we made a difference. I really enjoyed talking to patients and their relatives and I think they enjoyed having younger people around.
Once on my two-year enrolled nurse training, I encountered all of these things and more. I remember how confident I felt and acclimatised to a ward environment, and staff on the wards were really impressed with my performance. I would definitely say that my volunteering experience of being on a ward, working with staff and patients and performing these tasks meant that being an 18-year-old pupil nurse, this came more easily to me than others who had not had this experience.
Looking back, I realise how innovative the college was to have this smooth pathway in place for young people like me who did not achieve the educational attainment I needed. I would recommend volunteering for all, and particularly for young people as a way of building confidence and skills and finding out more about career opportunities.