Nurses’ year of study rewarded with Open University diplomas

The success story that is the Open University is 40 years old this year. The institution has always been very popular with Shetlanders who have studied with it in record numbers.

Until the millennium, when some degree courses became available through Shetland College, the OU was the only means of obtaining a higher education qualification without leaving Shetland.

Since the OU’s inception the isles have often boasted the highest number of students per head of adult population in the country – at pres­ent there are around 160 are taking its courses.

To celebrate its 40 years of ex­istence and to acknowledge the special place Shetland holds in its history, the OU is tomorrow holding a degree ceremony in the isles for the first time.

The ceremony will be attended by vice chancellor Brenda Gourley, who is based at Milton Keynes and will be speaking at the event, and Scottish director Peter Syme. It will be preceded by a reception tonight for the whole OU community.

Over the years the OU has grown and developed and now offers a bewildering array of courses. Nurs­ing is one of these – it became a subject in Scotland in 2004.

One of the first cohort of  five Shetland nurses to graduate was Wendy Oates, who gained her Diploma of Higher Education (Nursing) last year after four years of study.

Now four other nurses, Sheila Umphray, Kathy Wilson, Aimee Sutherland and Alison Anderson, will be awarded the same qual­ification. All were already working with NHS Shetland when they started their studies four years ago and continued doing so during their courses. All are now employed as staff nurses.

Having children meant the women had the stark choice that has traditionally faced students in remote areas: go south for training or remain without qualifications.

Born in 1969, the Open University was the brainchild of the Harold Wilson government. It offered a novel way of learning through mail and TV and radio broadcast and was radically different from traditional universities in that usually no formal entrance qualifications were required.

In its 40 years it has grown to offer more than 600 courses across a wide range of subjects including engineering, environment, social work, social care, IT, psychology and business. More than 70 per cent of students are in work while they study.

There are courses for all levels of ability, from the Openings programme of introductory courses to undergraduate and postgraduate courses through to PhDs.

Last year a popular new short course, An Introduction to Scots Law was launched, and from next February Sustainable Scotland, looking at all aspects of sustainability, will be offered.

The OU will be taking part in the Careers Convention at Clickimin on 1st October when people can talk to an adviser.

Financial support may be available for people whose household income is less than £16,510 per year.

To get a prospectus phone 0845 366 6051.

The OU’s pre-registration nurs­ing programme offered the group the possiblity of becoming reg­istered nurses while still working and living in their own community. The women benefited from the support of health board course tutors and mentors, registered nurses who were assigned to them for the duration of their course. Work was mostly done on line and they had to compile a portfolio of evidence.

Wendy, 49, whose children were 12, 13 and 15 when she started, worked as an auxiliary during her studies. Her qualification has been financially beneficial, she said, but more than that. “I’ve done some­thing for me and survived.”

Sheila, 37, started with NHS Shet­land in 1990 and worked as an auxiliary. After her daughter was born there was no prospect of her going away so she seized the oppor­tunity of OU study. It was not easy.

“During the course there were times when I thought it was the worst decision I’d ever made but the support and encouragement of the tutors and other students made me carry on. It’s such as sense of achievement and so much job satisfaction.”

The fact of the varied work placements done as part of the course of study gave her a wide experience, Sheila added.
Kathy, 45, started her nursing career as an auxiliary at Montfield. She was unable to go away for training due to her large family and her work as an informal carer, and said: “I wanted to do nursing when I left school but I didn’t want to go away [for training].

“I thought auxiliary nursing was all I’d ever get to do and it is frustrating when you want to learn more. When the chance [to study] came up I grabbed it.” She now intends to go on to gain a degree in nursing practice.

Aimee, 34, who has two teenage children, started as a health care assistant in theatre. She said: “There were more things I wanted to do.” If she had stayed at that level she would have been a scrub nurse, Aimee said – now she is
a staff nurse in day surgery and intends to study for a degree.

Course tutor Helen Wisdom, who with programme tutor Alison Irvine supported the students in their studies, said the nurses were now at a “completely different level of nursing”, with increased responsibility and accountability and able to plan the overall care [of a patient] and delivery of care.

She said: “For us as a health board [the course] has been great because it has given a development opportunity for the workforce. They wouldn’t have uprooted themselves and gone to a traditional university. This has not disrupted their lives.

“I knew what they were going through as I’d been an OU student myself for many years. I knew they would have regretted it if they’d given up.

“I want to pay tribute to the mentors in clinical practice who were with the students for the whole four years. They gave a fantastic level of support and the programme couldn’t have gone ahead without them.”


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