Heather always wanted to be a mental health nurse, having worked as a carer for a number of years. When she was given the chance by her employer to study for an Open University course in Health Care Practice, she grabbed the opportunity. Earlier this year, Heather was awarded the Care Apprentice Award at the National Care Awards, as Carers Week begins, she talks about her journey with The OU.
The thought of studying was intimidating at first, but The OU isn't like a conventional university – study can fit around your life, which suited me as it meant I could continue to work. Understandably, your social life has to take a back seat, especially when you have a deadline looming – but it's worth the commitment, when it's something that you really want.
I was fortunate enough to be working for an employer that was willing to sponsor my course, and was able to have a say in the type of modules that I wanted to study. My current role as a carer is to look after dementia patients, which was an area that I wanted to expand my knowledge and develop my skills. Mental health has had a personal effect on my life, with family members and friends falling victim. By becoming a mental health nurse, I felt like I would be giving something back.
It's taken two years of study so far, but the end is in sight with my graduation due to happen in the summer. I've already seen an impact on my job, with a promotion from a Senior Health Care Assistant to Trainee Practitioner. As I've worked my way through each module, my confidence has grown and my clinical mindset has strengthened. Work have continued to be incredibly supportive, by providing me with a paid study day every week, which has helped in terms of managing my time.
Through it all, I've never felt like giving up, but there have been times when I've been frustrated or found a particular module tough. But with the tricky assignments and exams comes big achievements when you reach the other end. Being able to apply my learning to my patients has also been a big motivator, as I can see hands-on that my study is aiding my work. The student support team have been really helpful, always there to advise on the best route to take, and the resources have been fantastic, with a good mix of online learning, print books and tutorials.
I was nominated for the Care Apprentice Award by one of my colleagues, and it was a massive surprise to win. It involved going to London for a judging day and I was asked lots of questions about my course. I'm truly over the moon to have won, and couldn't have done it without the support of my team.
About studying Health and Social Care courses at The OU