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Gillian Fraser

Morpeth, UK

Specialist Community Practitioner District Nursing

Following on from achieving her undergraduate degree in adult nursing, Gillian Fraser decided to enhance her practice by enrolling on the Specialist Community Practitioner District Nursing apprenticeship at Sunderland, which she studied for alongside working full-time. Since completing the apprenticeship, she’s secured a new position as a community matron and credits the module content of the course and the high quality, supportive teaching to her success.

I graduated with a First Class Honours degree in adult nursing, and after qualifying, worked in the A&E department of Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital for four years. Not long after this, I gained my position as a district nurse and started my apprenticeship whilst working full-time as a team lead.

Trying to achieve the balance between studying and working full-time could be tricky as my job was busy and demanding, and I also have three children. I had to be very strict with myself – getting into a fixed routine, allocating time in advance through our shift planning system, and liaising with my supervisor and assessor was crucial. It was important to always have a plan in place and make sure I was communicating effectively with everyone involved. I allowed myself set times at home for studying whilst also ensuring I had plenty of breaks to spend time with my family, who were very supportive. I found that going out for a family walk really helped me to wind down as the fresh air and exercise felt restorative. Having a colleague on the same course was beneficial as well, as we had the opportunity to discuss the module requirements together and offer invaluable support to each other.

I completed the apprenticeship in September 2022 and ended up getting a new job as a community matron in February 2023. The role involves clinically assessing and prescribing for complex patients, both in their own homes and within residential and nursing facilities. I care for complex palliative patients, preparing emergency healthcare plans to ensure their wishes with regards to their treatment are met, as well as instating Do Not Resuscitate documentation. I’m responsible for making sure that the best possible standards of nursing care are delivered in my area, facilitating training, and working closely with the GPs in my area. This involves completing weekly rounds of three care homes, followed by multidisciplinary team meetings to confirm residents have access to the most appropriate care.

My professional background combined with the modules I studied on the District Nursing apprenticeship have enhanced my knowledge and developed my confidence for this new role. Without the clinical skills and prescribing elements, I wouldn’t have been able to progress to matron level. In my previous job, I found the management elements of the course particularly helpful, as well as the deeper understanding of my geographical demographic and their specific needs as a population.

The skills I’ve gained on the apprenticeship have helped my organisation too, as we can now provide quicker, more appropriate care. I’ve become more effective in my role and therefore can provide a greater level of support to both patients and the wider professional network involved in their care. The communication is fantastic, and we all work extremely well together to coordinate and deliver a comprehensive service.

My advice to anyone thinking of studying for an apprenticeship at the University of Sunderland would be, absolutely do it. The University has fantastic facilities, but I feel its greatest strength is its staff – they’re incredibly supportive and go the extra mile to ensure you have the best possible experience. One of the biggest assets to the District Nursing apprenticeship was getting to work with the Patient, Carer and Public Involvement (PCPIs), which added an amazing level of insight. Their value can’t be underestimated, and they’ve greatly informed my practice for the better.

In the future, I’m hoping to complete a master’s qualification so that I can continue to build on my skills to help my patients and become a competent, confident practitioner. Although it was a challenge juggling studying with working and my home commitments, the quality of the teaching, the facilities, and the support offered at Sunderland made these challenges surmountable. I’m incredibly proud to have completed the apprenticeship and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity.”

Published 10 October 2023

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