June 2023

Emotional celebration for first nursing degree cohort who started at height of pandemic

By Melanie Hall

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There were emotional moments a-plenty for both students and teaching staff at a special celebration for University College Birmingham’s very first nursing cohort – who started their course right at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Twenty-two students, from young mothers to mature students inspired to change course because of the devastation of the global outbreak, intrepidly took the plunge and enrolled on the University’s new Nursing (Adult) BSc (Hons) in September 2020, knowing they would soon be completing placements on Covid wards.

The class of 2020 were also joining a new degree course that had been years in the planning but was a brand new area for the University.

Approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), one of the course's selling points was the amount of support available to nurture academic and professional development through a robust tutorial system and working in smaller groups.

"I’ve had so many experiences, made the greatest friends and I’m absolutely ready to get started on my career now"

Mike Blackham Nursing (Adult) BSc (Hons)

The degree was built layer by intricate layer by the University’s Director of Nurse Education, Professor Kathryn Riley, and Deputy Head of the Department of Nursing, Sarah Darling. Crucially, they had key input from clinical practitioners and strategic leads at NHS Trusts, as well as service users and existing students – all designed to create a more progressive, modern day nursing profession and healthcare landscape.

Students would also get to learn their clinical skills to become Registered Nurses in new health simulation facilities with a replica hospital ward. Here they would gain vital experience of the range of settings they would encounter in real life, with many sessions involving virtual reality. 

Three years on, this incredibly close cohort have experienced caring for Covid patients in diverse environments including A&E, GP services, prison placements and mental health settings.

Now they are about to graduate – calling for a special celebration at the University’s Restaurant at Birmingham College of Food in Summer Row.

At the celebration, Professor Kathryn Riley, who worked clinically for 16 years at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham before moving into education in 2002, said: “We built this course from scratch and when we started, we were right in the middle of Covid, so never had the opportunity for the proper launch everyone deserved. And you, our first students, started in very uncertain times.

“As all of you go off on your own journeys as Registered Nurses in your own right, we would like to wish you every success. I do feel you are such a close-knit group and you will have friends for life. We are so very proud of you.”

Helen Eldridge, Senior Lecturer for Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Nursing at the University – who was also there at the beginning of the course – said: “I would just like to say how immensely proud I am on many levels.

“Proud of the students for what they have accomplished, they have all developed into amazing professionals. And proud of Kathy and Sarah for putting together such a brilliant programme and the team for delivering it across the last three years. It is a fantastic sense of achievement for all.”

In pictures: Nursing students celebration at Summer Row

Mike Blackham was among our first cohort of student nurses

Getting ready to specialise

Over their three years of study, the class of 2020 completed no less than seven different placements each across intensive care units, surgical and medical wards providing post-operative care for patients recovering from routine surgery to extensive procedures, mental health units, community and care homes, hospices and more.

This helped them to clearly decide where they would like to specialise.

Mike Blackham, for example, is now going into mental health services as an Adult Registered Nurse, and already has a job offer on the table.

Charlene Bennett, who juggled her studies with looking after a young son, is passionate about palliative care after working in a hospice during her degree.

And Raf Rangel De Abreu, who left a job in real estate to go into nursing, is working towards putting her skills to good use in hospitals in the Middle East – once she has done a bit of well-earned travelling.

Mike enrolled on the degree when he lost his work as a skincare specialist at the start of the pandemic. He had wanted to be a nurse when he was younger, but had taken another path before coming back to it in 2020. 

“My mum had been a mental health nurse and I loved the idea of going into a career in this area too,” he said. “But life took over and I went into the beauty sector, started making money and was planning to build on that. But the pandemic came along and I suddenly had a reason to look at nursing again.

“I never realised just how suited I would be to the profession, I love knowing I have helped someone and supporting people with alcohol and drug addiction is what I’d like to go into when I graduate. I’ve already had a job offer and can’t wait to get started as a fully-qualified Registered Nurse.”

He added that the nursing teaching team had been so supportive and caring at the University, and he had made friends for life.

“It’s been quite a journey and I feel quite emotional about it, thinking back to everything we’ve been through,” he said. “I’ve had so many experiences, made the greatest friends and I’m absolutely ready to get started on my career now.”

Read Mike’s full student story here.

Sabi Ghale, who started her nursing degree at another university, said: “I am so glad I came here. I was impressed from the start with the amount of support and guidance the teaching team gave me compared to my previous experiences.

“It was the best decision to complete my degree at University College Birmingham.”

Nursing (Adult) BSc (Hons) students – Class of September 2020

Charlene Bennett 
Carmen Brooks - profile
Mike Blackham - profile
Lula Enow
Carrie Freestone 
Sabi Ghale

Jasmine Ghulam - profile
Beth Gladstone
Umara Ibrar
Fateema Islam 
Heather Jones 
Amina Khan 

Hamdi Mahamed
Gareesha McFarlane
Kwanele Nkomo
Alda Queta 
Raechel Panganiban

Raf Rangel De Abreu 
Alima Sadia
Farhat Siddiqui - profile
Ingrid Waite-Moncrieffe - profile
Salima Wamukoko

The course development and teaching dream team

Kathryn Riley
Sarah Darling
Marina Kendrick
Helen Eldridge

Rachael Lynch
Kim Gallier
Faye Mathias 
Antony Smith 

Belinda Chahal
Lydia Gilbert
Rosie Shepherd
Michelle Vance

Health placement team
Health technicians

Nursing at University College Birmingham

University College Birmingham offers a range of industry-led college courses and NMC-accredited degree courses, including a new mental health nursing degree.

To produce the best trained nurses in the UK, the University has invested £44 million as part of a wider £160 million investment into its nursing training facilities at its Moss House campus, giving students access to a cutting-edge Health Skills and Simulation Suite

This learning environment includes a purpose-built, six-bed hospital ward with simulation manikins and immersive learning through virtual reality technology.

Students also benefit from outstanding placement opportunities, with many having been involved in the Student Led Clinical Learning Environment ward project at Solihull Hospital, which won best placement at the 2022 Student Nursing Times Awards.

University College Birmingham is also the highest ranking university in the region as voted by students at the 2023 Whatuni Student Choice Awards, with award-winning student support and provision for international students.

Discover our range of nursing and healthcare courses within our Department of Health.

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