Published on 20 December 2022
Inspired by the grueling hospital treatment she received throughout her childhood and beyond, Sheryl Johnson had her sights set on becoming a doctor.
However, despite top A-level grades after finishing sixth form, Sheryl, who lives with cystic fibrosis, arthritis, and Type 1 diabetes, had a change of heart, wanted to earn money and opted to go straight into work.
She began a job with Durham County Council in 2008 as a social work assistant, on the Disabled Children’s team. The plan was to stay just a couple of years, but by 2013 she had moved up the ranks, becoming a reviewing officer in Darlington.
Building her skills and knowledge, her work became so aligned to a fully trained social worker that her manager put her forward for an Integrated Degree Apprenticeship in Social Work at the University of Sunderland where she could achieve the necessary qualifications.
And, after three years of juggling full-time work with study, alongside daily physiotherapy treatment, monthly hospital appointments, insulin injections, anti-biotics injected into a port-a-cath in her chest, and managing retinopathy, a complication of the eye due to diabetes, she graduated this month with a First-Class degree.
“Social work was never originally part of the career path, I was happily going along in my reviewing officer role, but after some persuasion I agreed to study the degree apprenticeship and it’s been one of the best decisions I have ever made,” explained Sheryl, 33, from County Durham.
“I’ve started a new job in the Looked After Children's team with Darlington Borough Council, that was the result of a university placement in my final year and I’ve now started a Master’s degree in Inequality and Society. My long term goal is to eventually teach social work.”
Sheryl revealed that as well as working, studying supporting her two stepchildren, and navigating her health through a global pandemic, she found time to marry her partner Richard in June this year.
“Richard has been my rock through this, he’s also a social worker, so completely understands the work I’m doing and is so supportive.”
Sheryl admits that the first year of the degree was a challenge, but by her second year, she’d found her stride.
She says: “It was at first hard getting my head around academic work and the writing style. There were lots of new people to meet and it was an unfamiliar environment for me. But as my confidence and self-esteem grew, it made me realise what my abilities were.
“The apprenticeship gave me the underpinning knowledge of reflection and theory behind why I do my job. It was also good getting to know people from different local authorities, across the region, and how they operate.
“It’s been such a journey since starting this programme and I’ve never looked back.”