A mum who trained to become a nurse more than a decade into her healthcare career is now managing her own team in Swansea Bay.
Nicola Jenkins qualified as a healthcare support worker (HCSW) 11 years ago.
After longing to become a nurse, she made the decision to go to university but months later decided to withdraw to focus on her family life after having two young children.
Eventually she took the plunge and returned to university part-time, while juggling both her role as a mum and as a HCSW in the district nursing team.
Now, not only has she qualified as a registered general nurse, but Nicola (pictured) has since progressed to become a caseload holder and manages a team of eight colleagues.
Her commitment and enthusiasm for learning has been recognised at the health board’s Living Our Values (LOV) Awards after she was shortlisted in the Learner of the Year category.
She said: “I always wanted to become a nurse. It was something I had always wanted to do.
“But with my children being small and me working full-time and being out of education for so long, I was quite apprehensive.
“My managers have always been really supportive and luckily the health board gave me the support I needed to be able to study alongside my work.
“You’re like a family in district nursing as you spend every day together, so they were very supportive. I was also lucky as my mum is retired so she gave me a lot of help with childcare. I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.”
At one point during her time at Swansea University, Nicola spent three days studying and the remaining two at work in her role as a HCSW within district nursing.
“It was very intense,” she added. On a Monday I would be doing my job as a HCSW and on a Tuesday I’d be at university. Then on Wednesdays and Thursdays I would be a student nurse and on the Friday I’d be back as a HCSW.”
“I would be getting ready in the mornings asking my kids ‘what day is it?’ because of the different uniforms.
“Studying during the pandemic was a big struggle too as we had to do our student days in our workplace rather than on a placement, to try and limit any potential spread of the virus.”
Having only qualifying as a registered nurse two years ago, Nicola has already progressed to a band six caseload holder within district nursing.
Now, she has decided to go back to university once more – this time to complete a Master’s degree.
Nicola said: “It was very challenging because the role is totally different to what I was doing before as a HCSW. Before if I had a concern about a wound, I would ask the nurse to review it on the next visit. Whereas now it was down to me.
“I am now studying to do my Specialist Practitioner Qualification (SPQ) in district nursing at Master’s level, which is one day a week in university over two years. I have also become a band six caseload holder, so I now manage my own area too.”
As a caseload holder, Nicola leads and manages a team of district nurses and HCSWs based in the Penderi Local Cluster Collaborative (LCC).
The SPQ qualification will help to enhance her knowledge and ability to manage complex cases, deliver holistic care and continue to prevent unnecessary hospital admissions.
“I love the job and enjoy the responsibility I have,” Nicola added.
“I like the fact that staff come to me for support and that there’s always something new to learn. I am very much a people person so it’s the ideal job for me. It’s a very rewarding job. When you help to support someone or their family, especially at the end of their life, it is very rewarding.”
Nicola’s enthusiasm for learning throughout her career led to her being shortlisted at this year’s LOV Awards, held at Swansea Arena.
She said: “I was very surprised to be nominated but it was lovely. I would definitely encourage others thinking of going back into studying to do it. It can be hard, but it is so worth it.”
Rachel Price, clinical team leader for district nursing, said: “Nicola as an older learner, with family commitments and working as a HCSW faced many challenges on her journey to becoming a registered nurse.
“She took these challenges in her stride and demonstrated to others working with her that with determination and hard work, it is possible to achieve goals that at first you may feel are unattainable.
“Her passion for ongoing learning is clear to see for those working with Nicola and she always tries to disseminate any learning to others within the team.”
Paula Heycock, Head of Nursing for the health board’s Primary Community Therapies Group, said: “District or wider community nursing is a valuable and rewarding career with much support to develop and progress.
“I am so pleased Nicola has been recognised for all she has achieved through her continued learning and development within district nursing.”