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Why becoming an apprentice nurse associate has changed my life – Mental Health Nurses Day

As we approach Mental Health Nurses Day this Sunday, 21st February, we’ve asked one of our Nurse Associate Apprentices, Chris Longshaw, to share his experience of his apprenticeship at Cygnet Health Care. Chris graduated through our apprenticeship pathway and is now applying to become a Registered Mental Health Nurse.

As well as attracting much-needed new talent into Cygnet, the Apprentice Programme addresses an industry-wide shortage of nurses, and recruitment and retention of staff remains a key concern for the sector. David Wilmott, Director of Nursing at Cygnet Health Care said: “The challenge of attracting and retaining people to work in the field of mental health is well documented. Staff in the sector work incredibly hard to provide the best care in a climate where demand is increasingly intense, but resource significantly more stretched.”

According to NHS digital data, the number of mental health nurses in England has slumped by more than a tenth over the past decade.

“Offering clear pathways that enable people to enter the profession, pursue their career goals and in turn retain their talent is essential if we are to create a workforce that is fit for the future,” said David. “The passion and drive to succeed exhibited by our Apprentices has been very inspiring, and I commend Chris and all those involved in our apprenticeship programmes for their thoroughly professional work.”

Now in its fourth year, the Cygnet apprentice programme offers 21 different pathways, and this year we are encouraging more support workers who want to pursue a nursing career to become Registered Nurses. You can read more about Learning at Cygnet and our careers pathways.

My nursing journey

By Chris Longshaw, Nurse Associate graduate

I started working at Cygnet St Augustine’s, a specialist high dependency inpatient rehabilitation for men in Staffordshire, several years ago as a Support Worker. I enjoyed every minute of working there and I fell in love with working in the mental health sector. Being inspired by the fantastic nurses and the team at St Augustine’s, I decided to be a nurse and started a Mental Health Nursing course at Staffordshire University.

However, due to unfortunate circumstances, I had to drop out during my first year but took the chance to return to Cygnet as a Support Worker. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my role, it was still my ambition to become a mental health nurse so that I could increase the level of help to those in my care.

After reviewing my options with my manager, Cygnet’s Head of Learning & Development, and our Apprenticeship Manager, they suggested that my best route was the Nurse Associate Programme. With the support from Cygnet team, I began my apprenticeship programme to become a Nurse Associate in April 2018.

Throughout the programme, I felt supported every step of the way – through my mentor, my nursing colleagues, and the manager. They always pushed me to be the best that I could be.

There is not a thing that I would have changed about my apprenticeship journey. Starting out as a Support Worker, the programme has developed my practical skills and has given me a greater understanding of inpatient care. Having a regular place of work to build my knowledge and skills was invaluable.

I’ve now completed my preceptorship, so what next? Well I have an interview to progress again and convert my role from Nurse Associate to Registered Mental Health Nurse and I couldn’t be happier!

I would like to say a big thank you to everyone at Cygnet, especially my fantastic managers and Learning & Development team who all encouraged me and pushed me to the next level to achieve success.

For anyone considering an apprenticeship and a career in mental health nursing, my advice is just to go for it. It was a great route for me to follow when I left university during my first year and I’m proud that I took on all the opportunities that came my way. I’m so pleased to be able to learn whilst training and establish the Nurse Associate role within Cygnet, navigating the journey for future NAs too.

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