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University of Sunderland Graduations: Pandemic couldn’t prevent first nurse apprentices graduating

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Published on 15 July 2022

First University of Sunderland Registered Nurse Degree Apprentices graduate
First University of Sunderland Registered Nurse Degree Apprentices graduate

When a group of nurses looking to develop their skills signed up to a new apprenticeship degree programme - little could they have predicted the challenges they would face by the global pandemic.

But, after three years of juggling their NHS day jobs alongside their studies on the first Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship at the University of Sunderland, and well as becoming part of the frontline service in the battle against Covid-19 – all apprentices have graduated, with many stepping onto the stage at the Stadium of Light to collect their degrees this week.

Emma Bailey, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing and Joint Programme Lead on the Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship, said: “It is fabulous to see our first cohort of Nurse Apprentices graduate from our University.

“They have all worked tremendously hard to continue with their studies whilst working in clinical roles all through the pandemic.

“The graduates will be an asset to the nursing profession and their employers. However, the people to benefit most will be the patients and carers for whom they will provide care and support throughout their career.

“We wish them the best of luck for the future.”

The nurses now continue their dedicated careers in the NHS, benefiting the service users with skills they’ve developed in areas of adult nursing, mental health and learning disability.

One of those apprentices is Gemma Dobey, a Community Nurse and Physical Health Lead with North Tyneside Recovery Partnership, a dedicated service for anyone experiencing problems with drugs and alcohol.

She said: “I found I had to juggle my studies with my work, which was at times difficult and a challenge, especially during the pandemic. But thanks to the ongoing support from staff and fellow students, we pulled together as team and there was fantastic pastoral support from the Recovery Partnership, which all helped.

“I am delighted to be graduating today and this degree has really helped develop my current role and I’ve been able to provide evidence-based care.”

The Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship programme was designed and developed in collaboration with the region’s NHS Trusts, and people who have lived-experience of illness, to ensure compassionate and competent person-centred care is in the hearts and minds of future registrants.

There were three different strands to the apprenticeship - adult, mental health and learning disability - which allows the students to gain their degree, while also continuing their invaluable jobs.

The apprentices ranged from a wide spectrum of NHS healthcare at Cumbria, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, and South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

While on campus the apprentices benefitted from the teaching and facilities, which includes the pioneering Living lab, complete with mock hospital ward and high-tech simulation equipment – mapping the patient journey from home to pharmacy, GP practice to hospital and back again.