Looking back to when I started my training, I can’t pinpoint one specific point when I decided to train to be a learning disability nurse. It was an accumulation of many things.
Growing up I worked hard at school, but never really achieved the academic success of my sisters and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I went to sixth form and struggled through A Levels, coming out with very poor grades, despite lots of effort. I had also started volunteering in my local special school, which I loved. This led to a job at summer playscheme and as a support worker. My parents had since become respite carers, my aunt had a learning disability and my dad in particular wanted to become more involved. All these things made me realise that I was much happier when I was around people with a learning disability. I enjoyed playscheme, holidays and one to one sessions.
So, I decided that teaching was the way to go, after one term of teaching I dropped out and went back to support work. I then had a rethink and decided social work was the answer, so I started a degree that would enable me to follow that path. Again, I didn’t feel like I was in the right place. Whilst I was studying for the degree in Bangor, I began to look at other options and discovered that there was a branch of nursing for people with a learning disability. As I am not good with blood, and can barely watch casualty I had never looked at nursing, but decided to look into this.
Once I had secured a place on the learning disability nursing degree course, I never looked back. I loved the course and felt I had finally found my place. I did sometimes struggle with the adult placements, but still learnt something from each. Once I went to learning disability branch in year 2, I loved every minute of all my placements. I admit, I still struggled with the academic side of things, but with support, I managed to pass.
When I qualified I was six months pregnant and about to get married. By 2002, I had two daughters, Eleanor and Alyssa. I was living with my husband in army accommodation, and was not sure how I was going to fit in my nursing. But I wanted to so badly, I began working nights which was a struggle as I was not able to sleep in the day. In 2003, we moved home and I returned to be a band D staff nurse in my local hospital. It’s here where I fell completely back in love with Learning disability nursing.
Since then, I worked a variety of day and night shifts, in both the NHS and the private sector. When the girls started school, I began work as a case manager for the learning disability team. I stayed in this team for over 11 years, ending up managing the 0-25 service and being the Autism lead for the county. I developed a real interest around Autism. I also had my third daughter Isabella during this time.
Three years ago, I moved back to work for the NHS, where I have remained. I have worked within safeguarding, quality and safety and am currently on a secondment as a Matron in the hospital I started as a D grade staff nurse all those years ago. I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to study my masters, where they assessed me for Dyslexia, and I found out why I had struggled so much. This has been massive for me, and has given me a new confidence in my ability, which I lacked before. My love of Autism, has also really helped when my youngest daughter was diagnosed in 2015. This has also led to a real interest around the diagnosis of females with autism.
Looking back, I would not change a thing, I have enjoyed nearly every day and learnt something from the days that have been not so good. I have loved learning, and use the reflective skills I was taught in university throughout my career.
My message to anyone considering learning disability nursing, is to look into it. It’s a career where you get so much more from the people you work with than you can possibly give. You learn to assess, by listening, observing and feeling. Your communication skills will open doors for you and you will develop your value base like you would not believe. Don’t be put off by the studying, if you like I did don’t think you are academic enough. I am now in a position where I am able to interview staff and the main qualification I am looking for are passion and kindness. It’s a career that enables you to think a little differently and has such a variety of roles on offer. One day you can be doing paperwork in the morning, and teaching someone a bus route in the afternoon. The rewards you get from supporting someone to take a bus, order at a café, or lift a spoon are not measurable. If you do decide to give it I go, I promise you will not regret it!
Alex Fryer graduated from Bangor University in 2000.
There are still places available to train as a Learning Disability Nurse in Wales, please contact Rachel Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org) for information around studying at the Univeristy of South Wales or Ruth Wyn Williams (email@example.com) for information around Bangor University. There are no fees payable and a bursary is available.
in the morning, and teaching someone a bus route in the afternoon. The rewards you get from supporting someone to take a bus, order at a café, or lift a spoon are not measurable. If you do decide to give it I go, I promise you will not regret it!