Lewis explains his journey from apprentice to staff nurse

  • Date

    Mon 7 Feb 22

Lewis Reed wearing face mask

To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week and showcase the apprenticeships available at Essex, we asked graduate apprentice Lewis Reed to tell his journey from being a Healthcare Assistant to Staff Nurse.

Foundation Degree

When I started my Foundation Degree Apprenticeship in October 2017 I remember feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of working and undertaking a degree at the same time.

I always struggled academically, and it was this aspect that was going to be very challenging.

I had been working at Colchester Hospital for nine years as a Healthcare Assistant in the orthopaedic and trauma departments and when I first started, I never thought of being a nurse. 

After completing my Diploma in Health and Social Care at the end of 2016, I honestly thought that was it, as the academic side just seemed too much.

However, my ward manager suggested I take the Apprentice Assistant Practitioner role, and after looking at the course it did interest me as I had seen a couple of people in my unit undertake the apprenticeship and I had been in my role as a healthcare assistant for some time.

The start of my Foundation Degree did not go well as I failed  a couple of early assignments. My tutor suggested I had a test to see if I had dyslexia – something I always thought I had but had never been diagnosed. When it was confirmed I had dyslexia the University put things in place to assist me, and from then on it became a bit more manageable.

In practice, my dyslexia has never stopped me from doing well, I like to think I am good at my job, it was more the academic side of things.

I was so proud of myself to get a merit at the end of my Foundation Degree, but I would not have got there without the support of both the University and my ward. The University also put me in touch with a support tutor who provided a 1:1 support.

Nurse Degree Apprenticeship

I had to then decide if I was happy to stay as an Assistant Practitioner or attempt to do a Nurse Degree Apprenticeship. The tutors at Essex were very encouraging, and I got on the course.

However, I knew it was going to be a challenge - another two years of training as well as placements alongside my job as an Assistant Practitioner, attending university in week blocks, and trying to balance a social life - but I was quite determined by this point.

I think the hardest part of those two years was undoubtably the COVID-19 pandemic, obviously it changed everyone’s lives.

I started the degree in October 2019 with a clear timetable; I like routine, it’s how I’m programmed. Then everything went online, the modules we were working on changed in some way and it was a scary time working in healthcare generally.

My placements were probably the most enjoyable part of the apprenticeship. Just before lockdown in January 2020, I did my placement in Accident and Emergency.

I really enjoyed this placement and am glad I completed it before the pandemic changed everything. Accident and Emergency is somewhere I would like to work in the future, I think because I originally wanted to be a paramedic.

My second placement on a medical ward in the hospital was very interesting as I had never worked outside surgical, so I learnt a lot.

My third placement was in the community and was one of the most enjoyable as I learnt a lot of new skills, such as administering insulin, wound care and palliative care.

My final management placement was 12 weeks in the Vascular Unit. I was very tough but enjoyable, I felt I got on well with the team and got a lot more confident within myself as a nurse. It’s a strange feeling at the end when somebody signs you off as a competent nurse.

So, after four years of hard work, I finally achieved something I never thought was possible, the staff at the university were very supportive and the hospital were encouraging and always there to help. I am now working as a Staff Nurse on the unit that I have worked in for 13 years. My plan now is to work hard, stay in this department for a couple of years and then branch out to more emergency work. My dream job is to work in police custody as a nurse, something that a few years ago I couldn’t have ever seen me doing.

I was asked at my Nurse Degree Interview “What’s the one thing you think a nurse needs to be a good nurse?” and I said “to care”. I still believe this and will strive to stand by this every day, despite the challenging times we are living in.

I really enjoy teaching new people and I think I can relate to a lot of the staff. As I was a healthcare assistant, I know how they sometimes feel if they don’t feel appreciated. I can also now see what it takes to be nurse and how much work there is to it, it’s not easy at the best of times, but if you stick to your values you can get through it.