Lydia Spence

Case study
Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship

I am a registered nurse working in the Accident and Emergency department at Harrogate District Hospital.

I’ve always wanted to work in the NHS and started out as a care support worker at Harrogate. 

I did well in my GCSEs but lost interest during A-levels as I met my future husband at the age of 17 and had my first baby at 20 years-old. I then went on to have two more children so was kept very busy!

As time went on, however, I realised I wanted to progress in my career and have more responsibility and better pay.

I wasn’t keen on pursuing a traditional degree course due to my circumstances, so I was excited when I saw an opportunity on the NHS jobs website to stay working in a hospital and study for a degree through a degree apprenticeship at the University of Leeds.

I applied for the course in June 2018 and found out a few months later I was successful. I started the programme a year later. It was a 4-year course accredited by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and is taught through a mix of academic learning and placements in health and care settings.

We are paid a wage and then our university fees are covered by our employer.

You are given a base ward at the beginning of the course and mine was a medical ward at St James’ Hospital. You also spend time on other wards such as critical care and surgery to get a varied experience, so I also had placements at Leeds General Infirmary.

The course was challenging at times because we did long shifts around which we had to study and many of us had children to take care of.

For the first nine months we were on campus and also in hospital on clinical placement and we found it really engaging. Then Covid struck. Everything went online and we did a lot of  online lectures. However, we continued with our placements, so we still had that clinical practice.

In our cohort, most of us had worked previously in the NHS. We had great clinical feedback because that previous experience made a difference in our care. We demonstrated life experience and came across as forward-thinking.

I went back to work at A&E at Harrogate District Hospital as I loved it there. I enjoyed working at Leeds hospitals because of all the specialities but Harrogate is my local hospital and I have a special attachment to it.

I love it in A&E because I like the adrenaline rush. I like the variety and having to juggle lots of different cases. You walk in to work and you never know what you are going to deal with. No two days are the same.

There is no perfect way to learn to be a nurse. It depends on your circumstances. I found the apprenticeship degree programme suited me because it gave me so much more clinical experience and I wasn’t saddled with a lot of student debt. I’ve gone on to have the career I wanted and have never looked back.