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Registered Nursing Associate on challenges of training: ‘I needed to finish what I’d started’

Fiona Mirembe was one of three healthcare assistants (HCAs) from Royal Star & Garter in Surbiton to start a two-year Student Nursing Associate course, supported by the charity. This first cohort have now successfully completed their course and are Registered Nursing Associates. Here, Fiona reflects on ‘going back to school’ and feeling out of her depth, but how the pandemic failed to derail her studies.

Fiona at our Surbiton Home

I wasn’t sure what my expectations were when I started the Nursing Associate course. Going ‘back to school’ after all these years played with my mind, but I remember being very happy that I was selected as one of the three put forward from the Surbiton Home. The charity made it clear that they were going to support us with our learning right from the beginning, and I was determined not to let down Royal Star & Garter for the opportunity I was being given.


I remember being seated in my first lecture, with no clue what the lecturer was talking about! I remember the three of us asking after the lecture if we were in the right place? But with time I got used to all the studying, exams, essays and placements. The biggest challenge was how I was going to juggle full-time employment, family and school. But over the months, and with a lot of stress, I learned to juggle things, and soon the first year of study had come to an end.


The second year of study kicked off well, I was actually pleased with myself that I had made it through the first year. At this point I’d got used to attending lectures, meeting assignment deadlines, placements and writing pad (practice assessment documents) books. The charity continued to give us study days and supernumerary shifts which helped greatly.


But by mid-January (2020), news was coming in about Covid-19, and lecturers started preparing us for how we would study if the virus came to the UK. It was in March that the university moved onsite studying to online. The university made it very clear that that they had written to all Trusts with students on the course to inform them of the move and that it was up to individual Trusts to keep their students on the course or pause it for a while and return at a later date. The charity seconded us to continue with our studies despite the difficult times.

Fiona, Karen and Leena outside the Surbiton Home

Shifting studies to online came with a lot of challenges; I would spend every Wednesday on a computer listening to someone’s voice, and I also had to get to grips with using all the new IT.


However, over the months I again got used to my new world of studying. Due to the pandemic, we weren’t able to go for any external placements, but the charity gave us the opportunity to work on different floors with different residents. The university was kind enough to let these hours covered on different floors be counted as actual placements hours, which contributed to the final mark at the end of study.


The last months tested my resilience but by then there was no chance of going back. I needed to finish what I started, and thank goodness I have. I managed to go through the exams broad, and then the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council). I now finally have my pin, and I am a Registered Nursing Associate.


I would like to thank the charity for giving me this opportunity – I hope I have done them proud.


I would further like to pay tribute to all the nurses who have seen me through my journey, and especially our Mentor Connie who did an amazing job.


Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.