July 2023

Nursing graduate who found his calling wins student of the year

By Killoran Wills and Melanie Hall

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A newly-qualified student who was part of the very first cohort of the University’s adult nursing degree at the height of the pandemic has won a top education award for going above and beyond during his studies.

Mike Blackham was fit to burst when he heard he had won Further Education/Higher Education Student of the Year at last night’s Titan Awards, which showcase exceptional teachers and students in the region.

Starting his Nursing (Adult) BSc (Hons) in September 2020, knowing he would be completing placements on Covid wards, Mike had worked in aesthetics for 16 years, initially enrolling on the course to expand his practice into advanced treatments.

However, the three years of study turned out to be a life-changing experience for Mike, who not only achieved top assessment marks and completed seven placements everywhere from A&E and GP services to prisons and mental health settings, but was a pillar of support to the programme delivery team.

His unwavering support included providing input from a student perspective at Nursing and Midwifery Council quality meetings and attending approval events for new programmes such as the Mental Health Nursing BSc (Hons).

He also represented the University at regional nursing events. 

Hearing he had won the award, Mike, who is now going into mental health services as an Adult Registered Nurse and already has a job offer on the table, said: “I am so happy right now.”

"I am very grateful for all of the experiences I have been afforded, the people I have met and got to know and all the support I have had along the way from the University nursing team. I have met some beautiful people and created bonds that will last a lifetime."

Mike Blackham BSc (Hons) Adult Nursing

“This is a fantastic way to end my journey of studying nursing at University College Birmingham and a brilliant way to start my nursing career.

“I am very grateful for all of the experiences I have been afforded, the people I have met and got to know and all the support I have had along the way from the University nursing team. I have met some beautiful people and created bonds that will last a lifetime.

“I am very proud to have completed the nursing degree and the Titan award is the cherry on top! Thank you to everyone that has been a part of this journey with me.”

At last month’s emotional first nursing cohort celebration, Mike said: “My mum had been a mental health nurse and I loved the idea of going into a career in this area too. 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.”

Lecturer Sarah Darling – Teacher of the Year finalist

Sarah was also recognised at the Titan Awards as finalist for Teacher of the Year. She was put forward for working tirelessly to put students at the heart of everything she does, inspiring by drawing on her personal experiences in the health industry to ensure teaching is engaging and relatable to practice.

Professor Kathryn Riley, head of Health Education at the University, said: “Sarah really cares for students’ individual wellbeing, personal development and progression through the programme.

“This is reflected in a course attrition rate of just 5% against a regional benchmark of 15%. That is extraordinary and Sarah's relationship with her students on the programme is one of the factors that is positively contributing to this.”

Sarah said: “I just love seeing people learn, implementing actions and skills. It is about getting the best out of people, seeing them grow in confidence, personality and outlook.

“At the end of the day, it is a privilege to be part of someone’s education journey.”

Nursing at University College Birmingham

Approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the Adult Nursing degree at University College Birmingham was built layer by intricate layer with key input from clinical practitioners and strategic leads at NHS Trusts, as well as service users and existing students such as Mike – all designed to create a more progressive, modern day nursing profession and healthcare landscape.

Students on the nursing degree course get to learn their clinical skills to become Registered Nurses in cutting edge health simulation facilities with a replica hospital ward. Here, they gain vital experience of the range of settings they will encounter in real life, with many sessions involving virtual reality. 

Professor Riley, who worked clinically for 16 years at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham before moving into education in 2002, said: “We provide an excellent student support tutorial system and the students get high-quality pastoral care, which is robust and student centred.

“The nurse lecturing team are registered nurses and health care professionals and remain up-to-date, with industry experience to ensure the students get contemporary and credible learning.”

Find out more about University College Birmingham’s Adult Nursing BSc (Hons) and our Mental Health Nursing BSc (Hons). The courses are both available through Clearing.

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