Student case study: Heather Nicol, SWAP Access to Nursing

Heather Nicol joined UHI Argyll as part of first cohort of SWAP Access to Nursing students back in 2019. Five years on, Heather takes the time to reflect on what it is like to be a newly qualified nurse.

In 2019 I started my journey towards a career in nursing through the SWAP Access to Nursing course at UHI Argyll. I then went to The University of the West of Scotland, Paisley to complete my BSc in Adult Nursing.

Heather's college and university experience

In 2019 UHI Argyll advertised the SWAP Access to Nursing course and I applied for a position immediately. I had always wanted to be a nurse, however, life chose a different path and at the age of 30 with 3 young children I decided it was a sensible time to work towards a BSc in Adult Nursing.

The SWAP Access course introduced me to academic writing, critical thinking, and clinical practice skills. The course stood me in good stead when applying for university, I was well supported by my lecturers and my peers who I now consider to be some of my dearest friends.

The transition into university was somewhat different compared to previous cohorts, we were 'The Covid Cohort', and apart from clinical skills labs, mandatory training, and practice learning experience, my first year was delivered via online classes. As I began my second year restrictions had begun to ease and I would travel to Paisley twice a week for lectures and clinical skills. The opportunity to finally attend campus opened a whole new support network of peers.

Second year, however, was a whole new ball game and time management was priority but thanks to the SWAP Access course, I had learnt some useful tips on time management.

As I approached the end of my third year, the staff, peers, and support networks at University were compassionate of my needs and supported me through times when the stress of studying was overwhelming.

University has its ups, and it has its downs, nursing students are a different breed; we support and care for each other and are always ready to cheer on our peers towards the finish line. Self-care is extremely important as a student nurse, burnout is a very real thing and having a good support network and resilience will help you to reach your goal.

I would like to thank the Access to Nursing lecturers at UHI Argyll, as without them I would never have made it to this point, I will be forever grateful for them supporting me towards my dream career.

Fast forward to today...

Here I am nearly five years later working as a newly qualified nurse in a Medical High Dependency Unit department at my local hospital. The last six months have been quite the learning curve and when it is said 'you don't learn until you qualify', the statement couldn't be truer. I have developed and learnt a lot in this time, but most importantly I have learnt that no question is a stupid question, and that teamwork is imperative. I am currently completing the Flying Start Programme which is supporting me to look back on how I have developed and what areas I need to improve.

Nursing is a demanding but rewarding career, watching an acutely ill patient improve to be discharged home to their family makes all the hard work worth it. I now have the honour of supervising new nursing students on their journey through their practice placements, which is a great way to develop not just their careers but my own too. I look forward to meeting and supervising future SWAP Access to Nursing students on their journey. I will forever be thankful to the staff at UHI Argyll for supporting me to this point.

UHI Argyll SWAP Access to Nursing lecturers Linda Brown and Margaret Eccles said: "We are filled with a sense of achievement and pride knowing that students like Heather have achieved their goals, especially during the challenges of the pandemic. It is a privilege to be part of a student's journey to nursing and sometimes the biggest step to take is applying to the course in the first place."

Kenny Anderson from SWAP West concurs, adding that SWAP are proud of what the students have managed to complete under what must have been the most difficult of circumstances.

You can find out more about the SWAP Access to Nursing course and apply here.