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'Learning on the job is the best introduction to nursing'

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Challenging but extremely valuable: this is how Natalie Chell describes her experience of working on a ward as part of a pre-nursing degree pilot programme

Before I was offered a place on the pre-nursing degree pilot programme, I worked as a mentor in catering and hospitality, welcoming new employees into the restaurant business. Although I am passionate about catering, it was not fulfilling. I wanted to help people, beyond just assisting them with their steak choice. So when this opportunity was offered by Derby Hospitals Foundation Trust and the University of Derby, I grabbed it with both hands.

I started with two weeks of mandatory training with the education team. It was a great experience. I woke up each morning feeling inspired and motivated to learn.

During training, I tried to visualise what it might be like in a ward setting. I anticipated smiles, welcoming handshakes, introductions, solidarity and time to adjust.

My job when welcoming new employees to the restaurant was to provide them with an immediate sense of family - displaying pride, passion and ambition in the workplace, alongside the teamwork that kept the business operational. It is the people who make your business, not the product or services you offer.

Unfortunately, when I arrived on the ward, instead of the warm smiles and a welcoming atmosphere, no one spoke to me. I was not introduced to the team, as I would have expected. This reduced my confidence level, and made me feel isolated and without support.

So, instead of waiting for introductions, I pursued them. The key to teamwork for me is communication and a strong sense of belonging. Working in an unfamiliar clinical setting was worrying and uncomfortable.

Luckily, however, one of the first patients I met eased me in with her humour and support, but mostly through our first interaction during her morning wash. “Here, duck,” she said. “Bloody hell, haven’t I got a cracking pair?” This taught me how communication, laughter and rapport is immensely valuable in this work.

This occupation has and will continue to be challenging. You have to work hard and be motivated to get the best from it. I have discovered on this programme that you have to put yourself out there. Be brave, ask questions, identify what you need to learn to practise and master a skill set. Hands-on care is something I had never experienced. It has pushed me to take control of my learning, and managed to make me both laugh and cry.

This pilot programme is extremely valuable - I would have never been able to study nursing without this practical insight. Although I have been to university previously, my only occupation in 10 years has been catering and hospitality.

The opportunity has completely changed my life. I have improved as a person. I learn something new every day. I make people smile. I endeavour to improve every day. I have now finished a year in essential nursing care and am thoroughly motivated to start my nurse training next month.

Natalie Chell is healthcare assistant at Derby Hospitals Foundation Trust.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • bill whitehead

    I'm proud to say that Natalie is now one of our first year student nurses at the University of Derby. Looking forward to seeing more publications from you Natalie...

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