BSc Learning Disabilities Nursing - Penny Gee

Penny Gee has just finished her third year of the BSc Learning Disabilities Nursing course.

In this interview, we spoke about her experience as a mature student returning to education, as well as the importance of the work placements on this course.

What led you to want to return to higher education?

I had previously been a journalist, and I completed my undergraduate degree in Broadcasting in the 1980s.

I lived in London with my family, but we decided to move to North Norfolk, and I began working in a high school and helped children with special needs. This led me to work in a specialist school for children with autism, and then once my own children had left home I decided that I needed a new challenge.

What drew you to study Learning Disabilities Nursing at UEA?

I overheard a friend’s child talking about university clearing in London, so I decided to see what courses were available at UEA.

I had not heard of Learning Disabilities Nursing before, but it fitted my skill set and my experience of children with special needs. So I filled in an application, had an interview, and I was thrilled to get a place and to be able to set off on this amazing adventure!

What support did you have in making the jump to a new career path?

The Learning Disability Team at UEA was very supportive, and we each had our own personal and academic advisors.

My personal advisor, Kirsty Henry, was amazing. 

How would you describe your experience of lectures and seminars?

It has obviously been a rollercoaster, nursing in a pandemic, but we had so much support from the LD team and the UEA hub.

We had big lectures with all students on Learning Disabilities Nursing, Mental Health Nursing, Adult Nursing, and Children’s Nursing, which meant we got to work with people from different fields and see the overlap between them.

And my course had a very small cohort, with there being 11 of us in total, and we had specialist sessions relating to our field, as well as clinical skill sessions and simulation labs.

How would you describe your experience as a mature student at UEA?

The last time I was in education it was the 1980s, so it is completely different now.

I wasn’t used to using computers to submit my dissertation, and I did quite frequently wrestle with the Blackboard website where work was uploaded online - but I got there in the end!

The support was really good if you were struggling with finding things online, and also there was a part of the Student Services team that ran maths workshops, because there was quite a complicated maths exam to do and some of us hadn’t done maths like that in many years. I know I’m not the only student who benefitted from their expert tuition.

What was your experience of the work placements on this course?

There are six work placements in total, two each year, and the options were very diverse.

I worked with some community nursing teams, I worked in the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital in cardiology, and I also worked at a medium secure forensic unit in Norwich.

The placements are intense but we had a lot of support from our clinical leads and our educational leads. I learnt a lot about leadership skills because we were given the opportunity to lead shifts, and it was an incredible experience to have before you actually go into the workplace.

What’s really special about nursing courses is that you have interesting lectures about complex health conditions, medicine, and mental and physical health, and when you go into a placement it makes it all come alive. The placement and the theory all tie in together, and you learn lots of skills about IVs, injections, CPR that you take forward with you into your career.

Were there any other careers events or employability opportunities that you participated in?

We had multiple careers fairs run by the Careers team, and NHS and private healthcare providers would come in with stalls and presentations.

So you get to learn what things are like within these organisations.

There were local organisations, such as the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital, but also organisations from places such as London and Cumbria, so it was helpful to see what opportunities are available all across the UK.

We had the first careers fair at the start of first year, so it was good to plant that seed early on to give you a glimpse of what you could do in the future. We also had former students who came back and gave talks for us, and it showed the path that they had followed.

It's good to be reminded that you do have a career pathway at the end of this, and we were always told on our course that we could expect up to three or four job offers when we graduate - and indeed we have all had at least three job offers now!

Were you involved in any societies during your time at UEA?

I joined the Jewish Society, which is very active, and they do some amazing things.

It was very fun, although it was difficult to find time to take part in all of the events because my placement meant I was working very long hours. I also joined the Nursing Society, and that was really great to get peer support when things start to get tough with your placements. 

What are your plans now that you have graduated?

I felt very lucky to receive three job offers, one of which was from the forensic unit that I did my placement in.

It is hard to choose, but I am going to head to work for the NHS in south Wales to be close to my family there. I was so grateful to receive the other job offers though, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my personal advisor, who supported me every step of the way.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering studying Learning Disabilities Nursing at UEA?

Go for it! It’s a really rewarding, enriching experience - absolutely life changing.

The course size is very small, so we became like a family. We all still talk almost every day, supporting each other through starting our new jobs, and I would say that I have made friends for life.

The lecturers also are second to none, and all of them will take the time to give you all the support you need.


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