I have always loved music and drama... for those of you who know me; you would never have guessed that this was the case!
I embarked on my A levels, focusing on Drama and Theatre Studies - I was going to London to be on stage and perform to thousands of people! I remember speaking with my Careers Advisor at the time who told me ‘you need to have a ‘back up’ plan, something more achievable, this is a hard industry to get into’. This made me mad; I wanted to prove her wrong. So, off I went, stubborn (and still am), filled in my UCAS and applications in preparation for Drama School.
My Mum had been unwell since I was 13, we always had Nurses coming in and out of the house, hospital admissions to ED, long stays at hospital to get her ‘better again’. I was in awe of the kindness, compassion and care that the Nurses gave my Mum. They went that extra mile to put a smile on her face when times were hard.
Sadly, after finishing my A levels, my Mum passed away. It was a tough time for everyone. The thought of leaving my Dad and Brother alone (as our family live a long way from us), made me feel guilty and selfish.
So I looked in to college courses, what can I do closer to home that meant I would not have to leave my family. A friend at the time was considering Nursing. An Access to nursing course was available part time, two evenings a week. This meant that I could work in the day and study in the evenings. I had never considered Nursing before. As mentioned, Drama was my one true love.
I worked in a retail shop from the age of 16, worked my way up to shop floor manager by the age of 18 and was responsible for rota’s, cashing up and interviewing. A great deal of responsibility at such a young age. However, I wanted more... so, I looked at what jobs were available locally and came across a position for a Learning Support Assistant in a Special Needs School. I used to volunteer in a Day Centre nearby, playing games and doing crafts with adults with learning disabilities - I loved this! After much deliberation, I thought, let’s give it a go, applied and, thankfully got the job.
I continued working in retail on the weekends, worked Monday-Friday in the Special Needs School and went to college three evenings of the week. This was tough going but with hard work and determination, I got through it. I am not someone who gives up easily.
My Dad used to tell me I would be no good as a nurse, not to be unkind but because he knew it would be challenging on times and I was always so upbeat and positive about life. Again, my stubbornness kicked in... I wanted to prove him wrong. I attended an open day at the University of Glamorgan (as it was then), looked into the various branches/ fields of Nursing available and, from discussion with Dr Robert Jenkins and Neil James (then tutors at the University), decided that LD Nursing would be most suited to my skill set and growing experience from working in the Special Needs School for the past two years.
Off I went, filled in my UCAS and applications in preparation for LD Nursing. I passed my Access to Nursing, was interviewed and accepted on to the course. Like many others, and what is a common theme, I did not know of this profession and the many doors that it has and can open. I loved my Nurse training, the various placement opportunities offered, I loved being in education and making new friends with similar interests.
A year into my training, My Dad become unwell. I became a full time carer to him, which meant that my studies and placement were difficult to carry out. I had amazing support from the tutors at the University and, with planning; we agreed that I should take a year out and come back with the next cohort of Student Nurses.
My Dad improved over time, I went back to work in the Special Needs School. I gained further experience in working with young adults with ASD and PMLD. The School Nurse allowed me shadow him during my time at the School as he knew of my intentions to go back to my Nurse training. He wanted to give me as many experiences as he could whilst I eagerly awaited to return back to my studies. I am eternally grateful.
As planned, I went back to University, still kept my weekend job in retail and part-time cared for my Dad with my Brother. University was tough and there was a lot to juggle but I got there with the support of my peers and tutors who always gave me encouragement to do the best I could do.
I loved my community placements and was overjoyed when an opportunity came up to interview for a Developmental Post in the Community LD Teams. There were two jobs available and the majority of my classmates had applied. I felt so lucky to be selected for interview. On the day I was due to interview, my Dad become unwell again which meant I had to cancel. The lovely lady that I spoke to, who is now my Service Manager, gave me another interview date. I was so pleased. I was the last person to interview.... I got the job!!!
Another blow came when I was 4 months into my new job. My Dad sadly passed away after complications from yet more surgery. The support I had from my colleagues and Lead Nurse at the time was unforgettable and I will forever be grateful. My Dad got to see me graduate and start a job that I was really passionate about pursuing. I was set up for my future. I will forever remember the look he gave me when I graduated.
I have now been a Community Nurse for 6 years. During this time, I have had the pleasure of working within 4 Community Teams, both city and rural areas. I have gained a wealth of experience and knowledge from individuals with LD, carers/ families and multi-agency professionals. I have supported newer members of the Nursing Team and some sparkly new Student Nurses who have excelled in their training and have gone on to do some fantastic and innovative work.
I work with an amazing team of nurses and other disciplines, all whom I continue to learn from and they from me, every day. I am currently undergoing a Leadership and Management Course, which affords me opportunities to shadow senior members of the MH and LD Delivery Unit. Additionally, I am working alongside my colleagues and Senior Nurse to further develop a training pack about constipation awareness for people with LD. An example of how we can reduce health inequalities faced by people with LD.
My Mum always encouraged me to do what I wanted to do. She also believed that people should be treated how you want your family or friends to be treated. Like the nurses that looked after my Mum and Dad all those years ago, I stand by these principles and will continue to do so. Although this job can be challenging at times, I can honestly say that for me there is no better feeling than supporting someone with LD to reach their full potential. There are people I have worked with over the years that have left footprints on my heart, legacies.
In some ways, I have fallen into this job, from life experiences to being given second chances. It has not been easy but it has certainly been worthwhile.
Everything happens for a reason, it is never too late to follow your dream... even if it’s not what you thought it was going to be in the beginning.
Joanne Hammett - Community Learning Disability Nurse - ABMUHB
You can train to become a Learning Disability Nurse at University of South Wales, you can find more information on the USW website: https://www.southwales.ac.uk/courses/bachelor-of-nursing-honslearning-disabilities/
You can also contact Rachel Morgan - Specialist Lead for Learning Disability Nursing via email: