Mental Health Nursing student with Lesley Murray

Lesley Murray, third year mental health nursing student reflects on her journey to becoming a student again.

What made you decide to study nursing?

I’ve worked in the Third Sector almost all my working life, and frequently thought about doing mental health nursing. No matter what group I was working with, struggles with mental health was the issue that linked them all. I must have looked at nursing every year for more than a decade, but there was always a reason to put it off for another year. After my divorce I decided to stop just looking and actually apply. For me, it was the perfect opportunity to start a whole new and exciting future for myself.

What attracted you to Edinburgh Napier?Mental Health Nursing student, Lesley Murray

I started the degree at another university that was about 50 miles away from me. This distance had a major impact on my travelling time of course, but also the length of time my children were in childcare, and the subsequent cost of that, as well as time implications for things like studying and especially when on clinical placement. So I decided to try to transfer to Napier. My year lead gave me contact details for Pam Logan, the programme lead, to enquire how to go about this. She was really welcoming, encouraging and helpful and instantly gave me a good ‘feel’ about Napier. It wasn’t a move I was taking lightly, I felt settled in my current university and would be leaving friends behind, and it would mean applying and interviewing for a course I was essentially already doing – a daunting thought! – but her warmth and encouragement made it easier. And although I enjoyed my time at my first university, I have loved Edinburgh Napier far more. It’s been the best move for me, not just for logistical reasons. The support and encouragement from all the faculty is what makes Napier stand out.

What have been the highlights of your course so far?

I love the tutorials. Of course, they’re online now but even then they are so much fun. I love the enthusiasm of our lecturers and how great they are at engaging us in discussions. They really get to know us and you feel they clearly care about us, they are passionate about nursing and about raising us up to be mental health nurses. Last year we found ourselves studying in the middle of a pandemic. All teaching was suddenly online and there were questions about our upcoming placements that left many of us anxious for a variety of reasons. I was really impressed with how Napier kept us informed – even sometimes just letting us know there was nothing new to tell us and why that was, so we weren’t sitting on our own in the dark. I have worked on two different wards during covid-19 and although this was quite stressful at times, especially my last placement which had patients with confirmed covid-19, the university was incredibly supportive. I learned more on that placement, not just about clinical procedures, but about myself too, than any other. Going on clinical placement is always exciting too. You get to learn about how to be a nurse by being a part of the team. I’ve made friends with some of the nurses I’ve been on clinical placement with. But most of all, you get to be a nurse! You get to be part of supporting people at their most vulnerable, and if you’re lucky, depending on where you are placed, you get to see their symptoms stabilise enough to be discharged. It’s very special to be part of a person’s recovery journey. But in saying that, even if you’re placed in a ward where patients may never leave, that is also meaningful. There are patients I have worked with on placement who will stay with me forever. You get touched by people’s lives when you work that intimately with them, and it’s a beautiful thing. 

Did you do any additional qualifications before joining? 

I hadn’t studied since the 1990s! Before I decided what I wanted to do, I did a HNC Counselling. I had completed counselling skills and introduction to counselling courses prior to that so it made sense to me to continue along that line. I learned a lot about myself on that course as well as gaining the confidence to apply to study at degree level after such a long break.

How have you found returning to academic study after some time away?

I’ve loved it. I always regretted dropping out of my degree back in the 90s, so for me it has been about fulfilling that academic potential that was never realised. However, that is not to say it’s been without its challenges. As a full-time single mum it has been challenging at times to prioritise time to study, but it’s not impossible. Being determined to succeed is half the battle and you get lots of support with study skills, researching techniques and academic writing throughout the degree programme.

How have you found managing family life with study and shift work?

It’s a big adjustment. I’m a single mum and I have no family of my own to support me, although I am lucky that my ex-husband’s family have been able to provide invaluable support. It’s really a question of finding a new way to balance your responsibilities. I’m now in my late 40s therefore I’ve had to make many adaptations to my daily routine over the course of my life, so it’s really just about looking at your family’s needs and working around that. My children weren’t very young and dependent when I started the degree, but still needed me, and the teenage years presented different parenting challenges to overcome while still finding time for academic work. But these challenges crop up for every parent too, and we find ways to manage these challenges: while in employment; while caring for elderly relatives; while pursuing promotion; while recovering from illness; while moving house…so if you look at it that way you realise you can find a way that works for you and your family. I have friends who have to study in the evening because their children are still very young, but they’re managing. That said, it isn’t easy – you do have to just decide you’re going to keep going and then just keep going. Placement can produce lots of anxiety around shifts and childcare, but my experience has been 100% good: placements have all been flexible with me around my family needs and supported me to get my required hours. They have all been there, and we as students have supernumerary status, so we are not counted in the staff numbers. So, for example, half term was always a challenge, but my mentors have been flexible with me. One of my mentors was really creative in how she supported me to get my hours around half term.

Do you have any advice for other mature students considering a career change into nursing?

Do think carefully about whether this is the right time for you, and if not, put it on hold for a year and re-evaluate then. The course will still be running and the demand for nurses still as high. But if you do feel it’s the right time, then go for it, just make sure you start thinking about your self-care strategies now. You will need them! For me, it was always running – running off stress but also a way to be mindful while active and utilising those essential endorphins! But it doesn’t have to be exercise, just find something or preferably some things that can sustain you through the ups and downs. It’s going to be hard work at times but if you do really want to do it you’re going to love it, you just need to make sure you know how to love yourself too. Supporting people at their most vulnerable is rewarding but you can’t do that on empty, so make sure you have some tools in your self-support arsenal now to use to nourish you along the way.

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