In September 1984, an 18 year old girl was dropped off at St Margaret’s Hospital Great Barr with her quilt, a teddy bear and a suitcase of clothes. She was still a little unsure whether mental handicap nursing was for her, or whether she should have stuck with chiropody, but the decision was made and she pulled up her big girl pants and made the first step into the best job in the world.
Three years later after making lifelong friends, learning how to drink alcohol, party all night and still get up for a 12 hour shift in the morning she qualified as a Registered Nurse (Mental Handicap). During that three years she had met some truly inspirational people and characters; people she will still tell you about and who’s names she can remember, they were not just patients in an institution they were individuals all with their own story and they had all taught her different things even if it was lets not do that again!
Her first job was as a staff nurse on the male secure ward in the hospital. Here she learnt the power of humour and how it can be used to defuse the most tense of situations, how talk down is better than hands on, and how unfair life can be for some people. She also learnt that the biggest, toughest men can be brought to tears when the ward hamster is ill and how you can use every situation as a learning or teaching opportunity, (look Hammie is taking his medication….)
Next she moved to the community working in a residential and day assessment and treatment unit, here she got to work alongside families and saw the daily struggles they faced. She learnt you could write the best intervention plan in the world but if the family didn’t have time to do it, it was useless and she learnt the power of the staff night out for maintaining staff morale in the toughest situations.
Next she became a resettlement manager helping to close the hospital that had trained her. Here she learnt the power of negotiation, how change scares everyone and that communication skills are essential. She also learnt that local communities can be welcoming and wonderful but can also be scared and unjust. She also learnt how to read an A-Z and where best to get directions- a skill she came to rely on later in her career.
A move out of the comfort of the NHS came next as she became the manager of a small community nursing home here is where one of the stand out career moments happened, one of those moments that make the light in your eye shine brighter. This is where after 12 months of hand over hand training Carol picked up her own spoon and began to feed herself on Christmas Eve. A true Christmas present for an entire staff team!
With the birth of her second child a move back to work in the NHS working nights on an assessment and treatment unit was the next step. This time she learnt the power of the therapeutic cup of tea and how people will talk to you if you listen without interruption. She also learnt if someone goes missing to check their wardrobe before calling the police!
A brief period in the ivory towers as a clinical skills facilitator followed. Here she became proficient in the use of the phrase ‘however in learning disability….’ As she taught all branches about the reasonable adjustments needed by people with a learning disability.
Now with 3 small children living in an inner city area she began to pine for the rural life and a move to West Wales as team lead in a behaviour support team was prescribed as the cure. This move showed her how small communities are interested in your life (landlord asking what we needed the long screws for after buying them the day before!) and how what might work in urban areas needed to be adapted for rural life where buses are a rarity and the community centre is 25 miles away, but it also provided the most beautiful backdrop to community work in the UK.
Still in West Wales she became professional lead for learning disability nursing as well as team leader of a community team this is where her map reading skills further developed and she learnt to write down the address to stop shop keepers laughing at her welsh pronunciation! She also learnt that ‘sheep in road’ was a legitimate reason for being late and that West Wales was a long way from Pontypridd and Bangor and the student nurses she needed to challenge why things were still being done the same way. So armed with a very loud powerpoint presentation and pretty pictures of West Wales she set out to entice students to the joys of rural work and managed to persuade students to come and experience all that West Wales could offer and some have even stayed.
So now that that girl gets closer to retirement, what would she say to anyone considering a career in learning disability nursing? She would say go for it hang on and enjoy the ride because learning disability nursing is definitely the best career in the world! It’s a career that will take you to emotional highs and lows, will keep you awake at night, will make you cry and will frustrate every nerve in your body but then someone you are working with will do something seemingly small and lift you to incredible emotional highs where you walk around with a smile on your face for days. If Carlsberg did careers, LD nursing would be it!
Laura Andrews - Professional Lead Learning Disability Nursing (HDUHB)
You can train to become a Learning Disability Nurse at University of South Wales, you can find more information on the USW website:
You can also contact Rachel Morgan - Specialist Lead for Learning Disability Nursing via email:
also provided the most beautiful backdrop to community work in the UK.