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Nichola Armstrong

BSc(Hons) Adult Nursing, Class of 2018

Nichola Armstrong 5

Nichola Armstrong

The decision to become a nurse was not one I made lightly.  It was back in 2014, I was 35 years old, married with two daughters and had been working for a high street bank since 1997.  If I’m honest, I had wanted to be a nurse when I left school but for one reason or another I went straight into work, didn’t take any A Levels or attend college but life had worked out well for me and I had a successful career at the bank.

My journey started at Suffolk New College in 2014 where I undertook a diploma in health sciences and re-sat my Maths GCSE which would give me the UCAS credits and qualifications to go to university.  Once I had been accepted to University of Suffolk that was where the hard work really started! I felt such immense pride to be part of the student nurse body and was excited but apprehensive about embarking on this new chapter of my life.  I was so thankful for the support from my husband and daughters and my wonderful Mum and dear Nan.  We were a close family and I knew they were proud of me for starting this new chapter.

I felt prepared for the academic side of the course after completing my diploma but what I wasn’t prepared for was the self-doubt and anxiety I felt about my academic abilities.  On reflection, I can now see this was no doubt due to the pressure I put on myself plus knowing I had given up a successful career to start this course.  As the course progressed I realised there was lots of support from the lecturing staff and the wonderful friends I had made.  The bonds and relationships you form with fellow nursing students is unique.

After spending an intense 10 weeks on a busy ward at Ipswich Hospital for my first practice placement, I knew I had made the right decision in wanting to become a nurse.  With no previous healthcare experience, I felt I would be disadvantaged going into the hospital, but I soon realised this was not true.  In the 10 weeks I spent on the ward I experienced 7 deaths.  This was one of my biggest fears going into nursing, would I be able to manage my emotions when dealing with death and bereaved families?  Quite soon I realised this was where my strengths were. 

I returned to university after my first placement enthused and eager.  The self-doubt and anxiety I experienced whilst completing my first assignment began to wane and the following assignments were by no means easy, but I felt positive and mentally strong.

In 2016, my second practice placement was on an elective orthopaedic ward at Ipswich Hospital.  This was a completely different experience and the interactions with patients was so far removed from the acutely ill patients I had encountered on my first placement.  My confidence was building, and I was beginning to explore the wider hospital and the varying staff roles within it.  I knew I had to make the most of every opportunity as a student, so I made sure to take time away from the ward where I was working to see the other areas associated with the speciality. 

If there is one thing I would say about being a student nurse it is this.  The course is all consuming, the desire to perform well and learn in practice is so important and juggling the academic side plus a family can be very difficult.  I was very aware of this and tried incredibly hard to make sure my family life didn’t suffer although at times I know it did.

It was my last working day of the week and I was spending it in theatres watching different procedures, it was then that I received the devastating news that my mother had passed away.  Without going into detail, the following 3 weeks disappeared in a blur.  So many things to do and organise including keeping the university and lecturers informed.  I had missed around 80 practice hours which if I was to stay on the course would need to be made up.

After meeting with the course leader and much discussion with my husband, I returned to my practice placement to complete some of the hours I had missed.  My mind had been in turmoil trying to work out what was the right thing to do for my family and for myself.  I kept thinking about how proud my Mum was of me becoming a nurse. 

In April 2017, about to start my fourth practice placement I decided I wanted to leave the course.  I couldn’t give my time to it and could no longer cope with the pressure.  My course leader was so kind and patient and after discussion I left knowing that I would complete the course but I needed some help.

I sought help from my GP who told me I was grieving.  I took his advice and contacted Cruse Bereavement and started Talking Therapy.  Both of these things helped and I am a huge advocate of the charity.

Unfortunately, I suffered a second bereavement in my third year, whilst on placement in the Critical Care Unit, my nan’s health deteriorated and she too passed away. 

This is my story of the time I spent at university in my quest to become a registered nurse.  I am proud to say I endured and I achieved.  I graduated with a BSc with Honours in Adult Nursing in October 2018, I have a full-time job as a Critical Care nurse at Ipswich Hospital. 

I am a different person now to when I started, I am bruised and battered emotionally but somehow stronger for it.  My experiences have taught me to cherish every moment I have with my family and friends.  I believe I am a better nurse because of what I have endured.  My professional interests still lie in end of life care which is why I chose to work in Critical Care.  I understand we cannot always change the outcome and people do die, I understand that better than most, but I know I can help in a small way.  I can be the nurse at the bedside when the person dies, and I can support the bereaved family, a small token but one which is important.

My message is this, grief never leaves you, it’s the price we pay for loving someone.  It is life changing but it doesn’t have to be life ending.