Made Together: Nursing ambitions for the region's health

Trainee nurse associate Kathleen Harrison explains how she started university in her forties and how the Made Together programme supports the development of skilled healthcare workers to meet the region's health and social care needs.

A nurse apprentice preparing to administer an injection under supervision from their tutor
A total of 110 Nursing Associates completed their apprenticeships at the University’s Health Sciences School providing vital care for the critically ill in local hospitals, hospices and GP surgeries - well above the national completion rate

Originally published in the Sheffield Star, 11.02.2022

The idea of going to university at the age of 46 seemed a non-starter for me but the Nursing Associate Apprenticeship scheme made it easy.

The scheme is run by the University of Sheffield’s Health Sciences School but operates nationally to fill the skills gaps between care support workers and registered nurses.

I suppose it’s about the University and its Made Together programme working with other organisations in the region to meet a real need and, for me, it’s been ideal.

Some University of Sheffield students who participated in the Nursing Associate Apprenticeship programme

I’ve always worked since my kids were very little and had spent seven years working in Active Recovery, which is the NHS community service visiting people in homes. That’s where a colleague first mentioned the course.

I did quite badly at school and would never have taken the plunge but with this I get paid a full-time wage, and don’t have to pay university fees. What’s more, I do seven hours of study at the university each week but that is counted as part of my working hours.

The kids think it’s hilarious that I’m doing this - but they love it. They’re pretty much grown up and some of them are at university themselves but they’ve been encouraging me to do something for years and they, and my partner, are really supportive. 

The apprenticeship itself takes two years and is a generic course which covers all five main nursing areas – adults, children, parent and child, mental health and learning disabilities. 

I’ve enjoyed all of it so far. There’s different hospital trusts and care providers involved as employer partners and placement providers. I’ve been based with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals in the urology department of the Royal Hallamshire but will have done a total of eight different placements by the time I finish and become a Registered Nursing Associate in October. 

Kathleen Harrison, Trainee nurse associate from University of Sheffield Health Sciences School

We’re guaranteed a job at the end of it all but I’m not sure yet which nursing area I want to end up in. I’ve worked in most of them before but never really done nursing for children so it has been good to learn about that.

Wherever I end up, being a Trainee Nursing Apprentice has made a huge difference to me because it’s meant that I could do something more in a job that I have always enjoyed. 

I left school with virtually no qualifications and was 30 years out of education so genuinely thought I would not be able to do this but you get so much support and great resources, like the Star Plus library system.

I was surprised that universities like Sheffield did this kind of apprentice course and didn’t know about the Made Together programme but can see how they’re both about contributing to the area. The whole idea of the apprenticeship scheme was because of massive staff shortages across the NHS nationally. The pandemic has been really hard for everyone and made these shortages even worse.

Apprentices like me, and others in future intakes, are helping fill these gaps and helping the region provide a decent standard of health care in the future.