grabbed by the corona’s.

November 4th 2020, and I am in day ten of isolation. And why is that you may ask as if you didn’t already suspect? Well here is what’s been happening over the last two weeks.

Starting an MSc in nursing during a global pandemic is perhaps to the normal thinking person, not something to be taken lightly. In fact, it’s not something to be taken lightly full stop, but when I applied and was accepted onto the course, Covid-19 wasn’t even a concern. Before the original outbreaks and long before lockdown I was already preparing myself for a career change and was brushing up on my anatomy. Well, corona came and decided to hang around, but my course persistently didn’t back down. Like many other university courses, the delivery methods were adapted and a whole new way of teaching emerged to quench the masses wanting an education. In my opinion, this was done quite successfully. Having completed a masters only the year before from the luxury of my little corner of the lounge, I was used to distance-learning and the discipline of self-guided study. So starting a new course that has adapted its delivery to be mostly online was not such an oddity for me. Collaborate, Blackboard and Microsoft Teams have all been quite successfully integrated into the daily delivery of lectures and tutorials. I must admit though that going into university at least once a week is a nice change, albeit if the university has been reduced to a scene from ‘twenty-eight days later’. No longer the thriving metropolis of learned peeps, now just a mostly quiet and empty labyrinth of echoey corridors. The few people I see are those having a pre-lecture Starbucks, all keeping their distance, and all looking a little lonely.

So, I’m quite happy to do the majority of work from home, and my god there is a lot of it. Do not undertake the MSc in nursing with any misconception that it isn’t a lot of work. When the course leaders joke and laugh about the intensity of the course at open days, there are real tears of anxiety I’m sure accompanying that grimace of a smile, because they don’t want to put you off. The course is a BEAST, whichever branch you opt for. But you know what, I absolutely love it. Maybe it’s a perverse attraction to teetering upon the edge of an endless precipice, maybe my brain has just decided hara-kiri is a good option considering the current climate. It is no exaggeration when I say that I study approximately 5-7 hours six days a week and the other day I work a double shift as a carer. It is full-on, and even then, I feel I am constantly falling behind. I’ve known people tackle similar courses and try their best to remain working 3 or 4 days a week. My hat goes off to them. If not for the need to top up my student finance, I would drop all work to focus on my studies. I suspect even then that I would still feel overwhelmed. Don’t underestimate the necessity of at least one day a week to recover from the mental fatigue.

Which brings me on to the next issue, that of my poor Fitbit. I bought the thing with great intentions of it motivating me to be more active, however, when it comes to hardcore study, there’s not much room for having a little walkabout. I don’t have a walking station, and even if I did, I wouldn’t trust it. I struggle not to fall over myself when I’m not making notes on the anatomy of the heart. So, my brand-new shiny Fitbit sits upon my wrist, occasionally vibrating and with as much enthusiasm as it can muster, suggesting that I only have 250 steps more to reach my hourly target. But do I ever rise to the challenge? no. But my Fitbit persists, or at least it will do until I finally just put it in the drawer. When you have a bucket load of study, it makes exercise a thing of myth and that is what I’m sticking with. I’m sure there are many people out there that can and do manage a healthy exercise routine and a full study schedule, but they are no friends of mine.

If you remember back to the beginning of this post, you’ll recall me saying that I am currently on my tenth day of isolation. The reason for this is coronavirus. Living with a vulnerable person and also looking after another, I am very alert to the symptoms of the virus, and when one evening I began to develop said symptoms, I immediately got onto the NHS track and trace website and ordered myself a test. For those of you that are fortunate enough not to have done the test, let me walk you through it. The home test option was the one I chose because our car was at the time, out of action, so it arrived in the normal mail promptly the next day. I opened up the box to find an instruction booklet, a swab which resembles a big cotton bud, a sample tube with some liquid in it, a hazardous contents baggy, an absorbent cloth, and some stickers. You read the booklet, watch the youtube video, then prepare yourself for a most unpleasant experience. Thorough handwashing precedes standing in front of a mirror with a torch, trying to not yak up as you gently tickle your tonsils with the cotton bud. This is not a nice thing, although I think the pre-psyching up builds the tension more. I recommend just going for it, the more you think about it and the more you tease your agape mouth like a moth to the flame, you make it worse. So, a brief twizzle on each tonsil and then ready yourself to insert the same cotton bud up your nose. This you do up both nostrils, making sure to get all the good stuff for the boffins in the lab, minus bogeys. The dirty little stick then goes in the sample tube with the liquid and is secured shut. This goes in the baggy with the absorbent cloth and the whole lot goes in the box they provide to send back. There are some bit you need to complete online before using the stickers to seal up the box and get a kindly father-in-law to post off in the nearest postal point. The track and trace people got back to me with test results within 24 hours. The whole process took about 2-3 days. And the results I so dutifully had earned were negative. Which was a relief, however, I was still required to isolate for a further two weeks, just in case. As I said, I’m currently into day ten of my isolation period and feel fine. Better safe than sorry though, I guess that’s the point.

My isolation period has meant two weeks away from university, but then that was fine as I do most of my work that way, however the few in-person sessions I miss, I can catch up with through Panopto recordings (a benefit of online learning). I’m also off work, but everyone who needs to know does know and the NHS ring me every day or so to check in on me and see if I have any questions and that I am capable of looking after myself. Fortunately, my isolation ends just in time for my five weeks of simulation practice at university. Huzzah. The positive thing about the university adjusting their delivery of the course due to COVID-19 is that even with having to take two weeks off, I still managed to attend most of the lectures and remain an active student. It makes you wonder if universities will ever go fully back to the old way of educating.

Well, I’m going to sign off there as my healthy chicken tikka kebab and chips have just arrived. My poor Fitbit is having kittens.

Needles, Musk and a Princess

Three weeks in and the training wheels are most definitely off, in a theoretical sense at least. Week one was an introduction to the university, the resources and the faculty. Week two was getting to grips with the software and the delivery systems, an overview of the course, and our first toe dip into lectures and homework. Week three we were basically dunked headfirst beneath an ocean of information and deadlines. For anyone wondering about the workload for the MSc in nursing, well it is extreme. The learning curve is like a sheer cliff face, and this is coming from someone who has already done a masters. Nursing is something else completely. The knowledge base for nursing is immense, and although at this point, I am still just skimming the surface of it, it is a daunting and headache-inducing prospect. So immense is the breadth of knowledge that we visit each topic just once. I realise that it being a master’s does imply a certain amount of self-discipline and pre-existing academic aptitude, but there is a lot of self-guided study required. Not that the lectures aren’t thorough because they are, but that the knowledge base is so large that there would be no way of covering everything in just two years. You need to read; you need to study.

Before we had even started induction week, we were already made aware of the first exam and essay dates, and their consequent resit dates. So, there was that looming over us from before day one, and then the first module which is titled, ‘The Developing Nurse’. This module, although done on its own, is basically your complete breakdown of nursing. This includes anatomy and physiology, nursing theory, nursing history, communication, legislation and policy, safeguarding, pharmacology, consent and capacity, moving and handling, person-centred care, risk management, health and safety and basic life-saving skills. And I’m just skimming the surface there, because there is still so much more. And then before Christmas, the first essay and exam. If there is one word of advice I would give anyone beginning a nursing degree it is ‘ORGANISATION’. Be organised, there will be so much information thrown at you that you will easily become overwhelmed and panic. However and whatever you need to do in order to stay organised, do it. And don’t underestimate the amount of work there will be that you will need to organise. From separating all the different topics up, to ensuring you have all the pre-session work and post-session work done, to keeping track of days in university and days at home, what time lectures are, when you have occupational health appointments, bus times, finance payments, revision notes, personal tutor meetings, cohort meetings, Microsoft teams meetings, unimail, collaborate times, gin time, e-learning dates, printable workbooks, journal entries, programme conferences, did I mention gin time?

Get yourself a diary, a big one. Get plenty of note pads and pens. Quite often I find myself working on my desktop computer, my laptop, my tablet, mobile phone and a couple of notepads at the same time. Which leads me on to desk space. I found out very quickly that the desk space I had prepared myself was nowhere near big enough. I have no spread across the room and take up most of the back of the lounge. By the end of week three I had also bought additional chair cushions, armrest cushions, a screen raiser, desk tidy, wrist support and a new bag. You are going to be behind a desk a lot, and you will very quickly become uncomfortable. It’s only natural that after hours on end everyday sat at a desk you will get neck ache, back ache, and put on a stone in cake weight. Consequently, I found myself one day purchasing both a Fitbit and a McDonalds. One to make me more aware of my immobility and encourage me to be more active, the other to cheer me up.

Amongst all the heavy workload, and still working two shifts a week as a therapy assistant, and the social anxiety of having to leave the house after six months of near complete lock-down, I found myself in the nurse’s office at university receiving various immunisations, leaving me with weak and aching arms. Now I’m not a great fan of needles, in fact I hate them, which may leave you asking why then I would want to be a nurse…believe me it has crossed my mind. But despite the needles I like everything else. I was hoping that by the time I graduate they would have invented some pain-free needle alternative like a sticky patch or some magical sensor – I’m looking at you Elon Musk. Fingers crossed.

I found today that our university had been blessed with a visit by the Duchess of Cambridge, apparently to speak with first year nursing students about the impact on studying during a pandemic. I am intrigued as to why I was not invited for this tete-e-tete being both a first-year nursing student, and student rep for my course. In fact, I was not even aware of her visit, nor were any other first year students I know. Makes you wonder who she did talk to. Anyway, the week ended and I found myself with a mountain of study to climb and a rather persistent stress headache. But you know what, I’m really glad I’m doing what I am. Three weeks down and eighty-nine to go. You hear that Elon, the clocks ticking.

Money, online working and outside pressures

Week one is complete. The MSc nursing course is approximately two years long with a total of six weeks holiday a year (yes that’s right, just six weeks for the whole year. There is so much content and so many placement hours to squeeze in that something had to give and that something is holiday time) meaning that the entire course is roughly 92 weeks of intense schooling. I have finished the first of those and am now halfway through the second. So 92 is now down to 90 and ½, I’m virtually registered = :]

It is really good to feel as though I am now properly on the course. I’m still transitioning into student mode, which is going fine, but so very tiring. I’m spending crazy amounts of time studying and I’m not even that much of a studier. There is just so much content to get through though that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get through all the recommended reading and exercises. So, I pick and choose. I do what definitely needs doing such as session prep and session post reading, but the other stuff is down to how long I can keep my eyes open for and how much time I have. Its just not humanly possible to go through everything. I keep telling myself this anyway. What I have found though is that my iPad has been an absolute diamond. All of my study and note taking has been done using the apple pencil and goodnotes 5. It is so easy to mix media content and to organise everything. If nothing else I am becoming very organised. I’ve not used my MacBook so much, but I’m sure once I’m working on essays it will be a lifesaver. I hope so, it cost enough. For now, it sits in a very protective case just looking pretty. My insane brain is now telling me I need to get an iPhone so that I’m completely emersed in the apple ecosystem. I didn’t really like my last iPhone, however, my stupid brain wont shut up and I’ve come to accept when this is the case, I need to appease it else I’ll never get any sleep. Goddamn you apple.

The good news is that my student finances finally came through and are now sitting pretty in my bank account. I am fully aware though that now my weekly wage has dropped significantly, that money has to last. A couple of additional things to consider if any readers are worrying about finances going into their own degree course, as a full-time student, apparently, I’m entitled to a 25% discount on council tax. Nice. The university sent me a signed and stamped letter to send off to the council to make such a claim, so I’m now awaiting their response. Fingers crossed. Additionally, since I have seen my weekly employment hours reduced, I’ve also started receiving some tax back which is another bonus. So, at the moment finances are all sorted. Check back in a month when I’m selling my liver because I’ve spanked it all on a new iPhone.

This week I’ve attended lectures on Monday, with further lectures on Thursday and Friday. The middle of the week has been for self-guided study, of which I’ve had tons. Monday was all online, as was all last week. This has all been a new experience for me, and one I was not looking forward to. I really don’t like being on video, and especially any form of public speaking or even interaction. But, I sucked it up and went for it. Fortunately, the whole experience has been pleasant. I’m not sure how its going to go as we work towards group work and group presentations, but I’m not even thinking about that yet. I’ve had it in my mind to just accept blindly what is expected of me and to just go with it. The spirit of loved ones giving me the strength to go above and beyond my own limitations. Like I said, so far so good. Tomorrow is my first session at the university. An early start involving 2 bus journeys and having to actually meet people in person. Again, I’m not thinking about it else I’ll end up getting anxious. It doesn’t help that I’ve not really been out for the last six months what with coronavirus.

One thing I was pretty adamant about was that I am far too busy to take on additional academic responsibilities. What with the intense course, working a part-time job, working as an editor for a magazine, and being under contract to finish off a trilogy of novellas for my publisher (including a recorded reading and interview which is not going well), I barely have time to scratch my arse, let alone do anything else. I certainly don’t have any social life. However, despite my better judgement I have found myself as the student union rep for the MSc LD cohort. Meaning what? I’m not quite sure yet, however I do know it requires additional training sessions, and having to attend so many union meetings and associated events. I’m told by my course leader that I will be fine, and I hope I will, but I really am pushing myself outside of my comfort zone with this course. I think that’s maybe a good thing. We will see. I’m told though there are freebies. And cake.

Virtual induction and day one nerves

Despite all my apprehension about starting a new university course, especially one as intense as the nursing MSc, it was such a relief to finally lose the mantle of full-time worker and become full-time student. The change was like a great burden being lifted, not that I don’t like my job, nor that I don’t want to work, but I think at this point in my life and what with all the external stresses I’m faced with currently, I needed a change in my routine and thinking. It really was the right time for me to move on to the next part of my life.

I had been moaning a little because it seemed to be taking forever for Induction to come around, and then all of a sudden it was here. Despite all my waiting and huffing, it still managed to take me a little by surprise. I woke up, had a walk on the treadmill to get everything moving, showered and waved goodbye to the kids as they head off to school. Then shut myself in the lounge in front of my computer and shut away my wife as she works at her computer in the kitchen. Believe me she has the better deal. I then log on to the university site and await the first meeting. At this point I discover my headphones don’t want to connect to my computer, and I’m not even sure if I have a microphone. Little things that suddenly became huge issues with only a few minutes before I was meant to be starting a meeting.

I finally get in and today I have a short schedule of activities including registration, the final parts of enrolment, a meet and greet with course colleagues and an overview of the course. These all go as well I could have hoped and despite needing the toilet about ten times throughout (nerves I’m thinking) I was quite happy with the first day. We are given homework (create a one-page profile) for Thursdays group session, and I am told very kindly by my tutor to relax now for the evening. Which I did, with a celebratory takeaway for me and the family. Big thumbs up. Always remember to reward yourself for each little win. Today I consider that a win. Also, I now know that my wireless headphones allow me to go to the toilet and remained connected to the lecture. Double win.

One concern that remains, is that my student finance status still says that they are awaiting confirmation from the university of my enrolment. Until this status changes, they will not release my funding. No funding means no bills paid and seeing as I am now not receiving a full-time wage, I am completely dependent upon that funding to pay the bills. I have about a week before I’m in trouble. Fingers crossed.

Timetables and Inductions

I recommend having a good old look through every tab and option on the university website. The university of Derby has an app/webpage/whatever called UDO. Here is where you can access all of your online resources for the course. It acts as a central hub for access to your timetable, emails, and all the other bits and bobs to do with the uni and your course. Most recently for me, it has been where I’ve had a good look at the upcoming course schedule and the first few weeks of timetabled sessions. On Monday 14th, I am scheduled to take part in a weeklong induction, all of which is online. This includes meet and greets with others on my course, introductions to the university and the available resources, societies, codes of conduct, uniforms, occupational health, and everything else to get you prepared for the year ahead. Importantly it is also when your enrolment is finalised, and they release your student finance.  Huzzah!

The first module of the course is entitled ‘The Developing Nurse’, its contents I shall share in detail as the weeks go on. This is where the beauty of such a blog comes into its own. My intention was to document the journey through an entire course, to offer experiences and tips for anyone who were to follow me. I have found quite a few journals of nurses, however worrying few regarding the learning disability route. This blog is intended to be the blog that I wish had already existed for me when I began this journey, which is now… you know what I mean. I hope that creating this journal of my progress through the nursing course will mean that those starting the course in the future will have more reference material to look through to prepare them for the same journey. I’m not saying I’ll give you all the answers (wouldn’t that be nice),  but you will at least have a better idea of what may lay ahead for you should you choose to pursue the MSc Nursing (Learning Disabilities) course.

As far as the first few weeks of schedules sessions, its all looking quite nice for me. I had anticipated a full 5-day week but turns out that I’m down for sessions on Monday, Thursday and Friday. Each session appears to last 3 hours, which makes for a total of 9 hours a week. On top of this the university expects you to use the rest of your days revising and doing self-guided study making up to what would be considered a full-time working week. It is nice to finally know though when I need to be in uni and when ill be home. To top it all off, due to the currently global pandemic situation, Monday and Fridays sessions are online, so I actually only need to go to uni in person once a week. The assessment for the first module takes the form of an exam and an essay, both of which are already scheduled in for the end of December, just before Christmas break. After all this time waiting, filling out paperwork, writing essays, getting references done, applying for DBS checks and student finance, and an awful lot of following up enquiries along the way, my university journey is about to begin for real. I hope I don’t f**k it up.

Tony.

Enrolment part one

It is currently a week away from me starting university with a weeklong schedule of online socially distanced induction sessions. These include an introduction to the university and its services, the course and those running it, the other students starting the course with an online meet and greet, and all the other gubbins you might expect from an induction, albeit sat at home in front of the computer. My financing is sorted and all scheduled to be paid, although I’m still waiting on confirmation of the geographical and specialism bonuses. This virtual induction week and its activities also includes the final tick in the box which initiates my student finance payments. IN the upcoming weeks, I expect to be sorting out my uniform, my weekly schedule for attending classes, my travel arrangements, occupational health screening and copious amounts of bloods and vaccinations in preparation of placements. I have one week left as a fulltime carer before I drop down to 2 shifts a week to allow for my fulltime university course. Even then it’s a case of ‘lets see how things go’ as I’m becoming ever more aware that this course will be extremely demanding of me.

The university released a vague schedule for where I will be spending my time throughout the next two years, and it appears my first placement isn’t until February. However, I am scheduled to have an exam at the end of December, less than 4 months away and I haven’t even started yet. That’s a little daunting, especially as it looks like the dreaded Anatomy and Physiology exam. The resits have also already been scheduled – not filling me with much confidence. 

I had anticipated a lengthy summer break, as I have always had at previous stints at university, this time however, placement requirements have meant that the 3 month holiday I was hoping for have been reduced to a measly 2 weeks.

What all of this information so far has reinforced in my mind is that I will need to hit the ground running. There will be little let up for the whole 2 years. Because of this I am determined more than ever to prepare myself and to allow myself the little luxuries I have previously denied myself. By this I mean, I have created a small work space, somewhere I am comfortable and have a decent desktop computer running all the free software the uni has provided, this mostly just being Microsoft word for now as I don’t really know what the other software is for yet. I have also invested in what is currently my ‘precious’. I bought an iPad air 2019 version, with an apple pencil and a beautiful case to keep them safe. I downloaded a couple of studying apps, namely notable and good notes, and have been writing up all my study notes and revision on there. I was a little sceptical at first at spending the money, thinking my good old pen and paper would be plenty good enough. And don’t get me wrong, they would be I’m sure. However, if you can afford the investment, I highly recommend it. Studying and making notes are a pleasurable task now. I love writing stuff up and organising it all in its digital files and folders. Plus, I no longer need to carry around endless note pads. I can take my iPad to lectures and write away to my geeky hearts content. I have also set aside funds to grab myself a new MacBook once I properly get started. I want a thin, lightweight laptop and after too many years of disappointing windows laptops, have decided to plunge for a MacBook. I figure, this is as good a time as any, plus if I end up hating it, apple stuff holds its value really well and I can get most of my investment back by selling it on.

So there I am, just a little under a week away from starting and I’m pretty much set to go. As part of my induction week the university recommended completing an online free course entitled ‘The NHS Explained.’ It’s a 4-week course that talks you through what the NHS is and what is does. It was basically reading and some videos. They asked for a bit of feedback, but it was easy enough to get through. You can breeze through it in about 4 days, which is just as well, because I’ve got an exam to study for. ☹

Tony

The continuing drama of getting funded

Since the last post I have almost entirely been distracted by the long-winded process of securing funding for the course. This has been a process which for the most part is now pretty much done. I have three sources of funding that allow me to study as a nurse. The first is Student Finance England. They are offering a means tested maintenance loan and a fee loan, these are just a loan and will need to be repaid after the course has finished and I am earning above the wage threshold which is currently around £25k a year. The interest rate is small and the total you pay back each month is tiny. I would guess pretty much every student needs to utilise this loan and it really isn’t as scary as it might look on paper. These loans in my experience are an entity unto themselves and will not count against your credit score or stop you form taking out personal loans or mortgages. The second source is the Learning Support Fund, which is essentially the old NHS bursary. This year it stands at £5000 a year for a nurse student. This is a grant and does not need to be paid back. Happy days. This amount may be more depending upon the speciality of the course and the regional demand, something the government are still trying to figure out. The third source of funding is my current job. I plan on dropping down from full-time to 2 shifts a week to supplement my student finance and to ensure I can still pay all the bills etc. So, for me personally this is a breakdown of all the funding I have confirmed starting September 2020.

Student Finance England:

Tuition fees £9250 per year paid directly to the university.

Maintenance loan of £11300 per year paid to me and split into three separate payments throughout the year.

Learning Support Fund (NHS Bursary) of £5000 + £1000 (learning disability specialism) per year paid to me split three ways throughout the year.

Learning Support Fund Parental Grant of £2000.

On top of this funding I will be bringing home the wage from working two shifts a week at my current employer.

When you are working out finances remember that part time work is not counted against your means tested maintenance loan, and if you earn under the wage threshold you will also not be paying tax on your wages. Remember that everyone’s circumstances are different, and you may not get what I got, you may in fact get more. The process for applying for the funding was straight forward and all done online. As I went through the application process the system told me what I was and was not entitled to. I found a lot of guidance and support on social media reading the posts of all the thousands of other students also trying to secure funding. The longest part of the process was gathering all the evidence and submitting it for approval. It may look a lot of money but remember that the whole point of the student finance is to enable you to focus on your studies full-time. This would not be possible for me if I were not able to leave a full-time job, which in turn I could not do without needing the money to continue paying my bills. Plus, I must pay most of that money back. Consider it an investment in your future and an important steppingstone to your future career. Currently the starting wage for a newly qualified nurse in the NHS is just under £25k, so student loan repayment will begin almost immediately upon getting your first job in the NHS.

There are many other pots of funding available to new students, you just need to ask around and be sure you apply for what you are entitled to. The system is not designed for you to struggle. In the end, the NHS want you to join their understaffed workforce. Consider the Bursary etc as the Governments little carrot on a stick to tempt you in.

All that is left for me now is waiting for the regional bonuses to be awarded, but I don’t really hold out much hope of that coming my way. Everything else is in place and it’s a case now of waiting till September.

To work or not to work…

With the interview out of the way, there were still many things left to sort before the start of university in September. Some of which could potentially end my journey before it has even really started. By this, I’m referring specifically to funding. I am currently working full-time and we are dependent upon my wage in full to cover the weekly bills. If the funding I get is less than what I currently earn, then I will be unable to go to university. Obviously I had done a little bit of research before applying. However, the reality of filling out the forms for real is quite a gut-curdling experience. I had been told by the university to expect to spend the majority of my two years on placement, and that would most likely be four full days a week with one day a week set aside for academic work. I had also been told that quite a few students have managed the workload and were still able to squeeze in a few shifts at work to supplement their income. I spoke with work and they couldn’t foresee an issue with me dropping some of my shifts and still doing a shift or two a week if needs be. Ideally, I would rather drop all my contracted shifts and remain on the bank so I could fully commit to the course. However, needs must and I was prepared to squeeze the odd shift in if I had too. I have seen others torn between the workload of the university, family life and work, and I know that something has to give if this is going to work. My plan is to commit to uni full-time and hopefully get enough funding to cover all the bills. I am happy to remain on the bank for work in order to help out if I can and to maybe bring in some extra money if things get a little tight. The priority is giving myself every opportunity to complete this degree, but not at the expense of being able to provide for the family. I had a rough idea of what I might get by using the student finance calculator, but until the money was confirmed and in my account, everything was still up in the air. 

Before I got the opportunity to apply for funding, I was required by the university to apply for a DBS certificate. This required me to fill out a form online and to highlight three pieces of identification to support my application. I went to the post office and got my ID verified, with the associated fee automatically covered by the university. I have since had email confirmation that my application is being processed. I’m not sure how long this will take but I believe the DBS certificate will be posted to me and then I will pass it on to the university. The DBS certificate for those of you who aren’t familiar with it is the new version of a CRB. It is a criminal record check and is required before you can do any placement work. 

Over the last few months, I have skimmed the internet looking for all the possible funding options that I might be entitled to, however, when it came to, the student finance application does all that work for you. As you begin to fill out the form, it adjusts to your answers and tells you exactly what you are entitled to and what you aren’t. This was all after I had finally found my course as although it is a postgraduate course it is hidden amongst the undergraduate courses as a postgrad healthcare course. I’m guessing it might be something to do with its exemption classification outside of normal postgraduate funding. 

By the end of the application, I was apparently entitled to the course fees being covered in full, a maintenance loan, a parent learner grant and an adult dependants grant. The student finance team is not interested in any income from part-time or irregular work, so hopefully, this will mean that they are accounting for me dropping out of full-time work in order to attend university full-time. We shall see when they get back to me with their funding decision. It isn’t that straight forward though, I was required to send original copies of my marriage certificate and my children’s birth certificates. These were to the evidence I had child dependants and an adult dependant. I also uploaded a copy of a child tax certificate to prove my children were, in fact, my financial responsibility. I am also currently awaiting a copy of my child benefit entitlement certificate to support my application. The student finance team also emailed my wife with a form for her to fill out which confirms her wage and evidences our co-dependence. All a bit of a ball ache, however, if it entitles us to more funding then obviously well worth it. Like I’ve said, at this point, if I don’t get enough funding I will need to drop out of university before I start. Also the more funding I get the more it will free me up from work to commit to my university course. So right now I’m still waiting on a new child benefit certificate to arrive so I can upload it, and then just the student finances judgement on what funding they will award me. Fingers crossed. 

As of July 1st, I can also apply for the NHS bursary. This is also a necessary pot of money that we will need to compensate for my loss in wages. This year the NHS is offering £5000 a year to support student nurses and an additional £1000 as the Learning Disability branch is understaffed. I remember 20 years ago when the bursary used to cover the entire course expenses, but I shan’t turn down any help being offered. Hopefully, the whole Covid-19 pandemic has drawn plenty enough attention to the important work the NHS does and might even mean the bigwigs at the government level will pump some more much-needed money into it. Again, fingers crossed.

The Interview

When I say the world got turned upside down, I refer to Covid-19 outbreak which has seen the whole world come to a halt. I had an interview date come through and had started preparing for the day-long interview, talk, tour, meet and greet, and whatever else the university had planned. That all went out of the window. Unsure of what would happen next, I kept my fingers crossed for a free pass and to just get an email saying, you know what, considering everything, forget the formalities and just consider yourself in. That did not however happen. There are a few things that I really don’t like, namely, interviews and video calls. Guess what? I got an email saying I was going to have a skype interview. Now despite this being one of the worst scenarios I could have come up with, it did at least mean that I was still on track so far and so I clenched my teeth and accepted.

Before the interview I had been given an online portfolio to complete. The information I provided in the portfolio would go towards my application and also be used in my interview. When I got online and accessed my portfolio to see what exactly they wanted from me, a new fresh kind of panic set in. It was fairly substantial, in fact more than I had ever had to do for an interview. There were various sections to fill in, all split into smaller subsections. The first part of the portfolio was personal information and fairly straight forward to complete. Name, address, CV, personal statement, list of references, etc. That kind of thing. The second part though was quite a bit more taxing. It required me to evidence my previous experience in care, to the satisfactory extent that validated my place on a 2-year MSc course. I had to write a detailed explanation of my understand of the nursing standards of care and apply my experiences. Finally, I had to write an academic essay on nursing to a university standard and to evidence my ability to work at an MSc level. Even once this had been done and despite me already having a master’s degree, I had to get a further academic reference from an old tutor to support my application.

With my online portfolio submitted, I began making notes for my interview. The morning came and I sat smartly dressed at my computer having ushered my family away into a back bedroom. The call came through and very quickly I began nervously waffling. The interview went fine, to be honest these things are rarely as bad as you build them up to be. I had a notepad of rehearsed answers to questions I anticipated being asked discreetly placed beside me, only to discover that they were useless. I had spent so much time overthinking the whole scenario that when I was asked something as simple as why do you want to be a nurse, it threw me. So if you are awaiting your interview, don’t just focus on evidencing your portfolio, but think about why you want to be a nurse, what nursing means to you, what a nurse does as oppose to a carer, why you have chosen your branch of nursing, and of course what you want to achieve by doing the course. I stumbled and jabbered through the interview which in the end lasted about 90 minutes and ended with me feeling quite pleased. No awkward silences and I managed to give fairly comprehensive answers, I think. My interviewer may disagree, however I was as a consequence offered a place, so that was all that mattered.

One step down, many more to face.

getting on the course

The MSc in Nursing (Learning Disabilities) with NMC registration is a two year course. The entry requirements are a degree at 2:2 or higher (thumbs up) in any subject (just as well), 450 hours of direct experience of care work (twenty years), and that was about it. The university website gave a brief description of the course and its content and it all looked good. I did a little research into the course and truly felt like this was it, the calling I had been inadvertently sidestepping my whole life. So I talked it over with my wife and did all the sums to make sure we could afford for me to go back to university full-time. Everything looked good, so I filled in the application and waited for a response. In the meanwhile I emailed the course leader directly to ask a few questions about the course and to get an idea as to whether she thought I’d have much of a chance of getting on the course. The course leader quickly got back to me and everything sounded positive. I received an email saying my application had been received and that I was required to complete an online portfolio for assessment and would also have to attend an interview. Everything seemed to be on track and I was both excited and shitting myself.

Before my interview the university held a postgraduate open evening, so I went along to have a look around and to introduce myself to the faculty. I’ve never been great at mingling or stepping out on my own into a new social arena, but I put on my big boy pants and went for it. Fortunately I had overthought the whole occasion as I usually do, and it turned out a very informative and fairly enjoyable evening. The course leader recognised me and was very talkative. She exuded an enthusiasm that filled the silences and almost overwhelmed me. I came away feeling much better about the course and happy that I had made the right decision. To be honest I don’t actually remember much of what was said on the evening, but I do know that it’s going to be a lot of intense work and that I will be spending most of my two years on placement. I was also informed that each of my placements which will be between four and twelve weeks long will introduce me to a different branch of nursing and not necessarily focus upon my intended branch of learning disability. I believe the intention is to produce well-rounded nurse graduates capable of slotting into the workforce wherever the need is greatest. We are to have three placements a year with the final placement being one of our own choosing to prepare us for post graduation employment. I was concerned that not being a driver would count against me, but was pleasingly informed that it would make no difference and that the location of my placements would take that into account, with me only being expected to travel a maximum of 1.5 hours from home on public transport. Those that could drive would find themselves much further afield but still within that 1.5 hours travel area.

I informed my parents that I had decided to train as a nurse and they were quite emphatically relieved that I was finally applying myself to something. I reassured them that student debt is different to normal debt, blah blah blah, as you do, and bathed in their praise and pride. I got myself all prepared for the upcoming interview upon which everything hung and then the world got turned upside down.