Mitch Howard has always wanted to care for people - and training as a Nursing Associate is enabling him to do just that.
The 28-year-old is part of one of the first cohorts in England to complete a two-year foundation degree. The programme is delivered at the Leicestershire School of Nursing Associates, based at Glenfield Hospital, and validated by De Montfort University Leicester (DMU). He joined fellow Nursing Associates and representatives of DMU and the University Hospitals of Leicester (UHL) NHS Trust, which runs Leicester's three hospitals, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, Leicester City Clinical Commissioning Group and LOROS for a celebration of the students' achievements.
"The best thing about the role is it gives healthcare assistants a progression route into nursing," said Mitch, from Leicester, who works in the Surgical Assessment Unit at Leicester Royal Infirmary.
"I decided to become a Nursing Associate because I wanted to care for people. I was always intrigued to know the patient's journey.
"It allows you to still earn as you learn, as it's delivered through an apprenticeship.
"It is benefiting the patients as I am able to confidently talk to them about their conditions and I have been educated and trained to carry out nursing care and additional clinical tasks." Mitch scooped the student of the year prize from the programme team, for 'quietly excelling his way through the course', at the celebration at DMU. Lisa-Marie Smith picked up the award for highest academic achievement, while Donna Bruce was named student of the year by her classmates.
Donna also shared the story of her journey to become a Nursing Associate. Along with fellow student speaker Donna Govind, she had ambitions to be a nurse but faced a variety of challenges on the way to achieving her dream. Both said they 'wanted to do more', which inspired them to apply to the programme.
"The day is lovely," said Donna Govind, "not just for us but the module leaders etc - it really is a celebration for everyone." DMU's Lazar Karagic, associate head of The Leicester School of Nursing and Midwifery and event host, felt it was 'important' to celebrate the achievements of students, who will graduate in July.
"The day is about recognising what different learners our Nursing Associates are, having to work and study at the same time. It also embraces widening participation," he said. Welcoming guests, head of school Dr Chris Whitney-Cooper described the occasion as a 'milestone in nursing history'.
"You are the first cohort to qualify as part of the Nursing Associate test site," she said. "You will be the first Nursing Associates in Leicester to graduate." Eleanor Meldrum, deputy chief nurse at UHL, said the day 'pulled on the emotional and professional heartstrings'.
"The partnership with DMU is really important. We know we have developed a unique programme that allows us to train our own Nursing Associates and allow them to be the best they can be and deliver excellent care to our patients," she said.
"The Nursing Associate role fills a skills gap between a registered nurse and a healthcare assistant, which was identified nationally, but it is also about delivering care at the bedside by trained and regulated professionals.
"Over the years, the role of a registered nurse has changed and they need to be supported by other staff in a safe way."
Nursing Associates are new members of the nursing team who, once qualified, are eligible to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. They provide care and support for patients and service users across a range of settings, enabling registered nurses to focus on complex clinical duties. A stand-alone role, it also provides a progression route into graduate-level nursing.
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