Angela Hawkins and Francine Gordon may work in different areas of mental health care but what motivates them is the same – their desire to be a source of comfort to their patients and look after them as best as they can.

Angela, who initially trained in electronics, found herself drawn to health care after working in a factory making hip and knee replacements, followed by seven years spent supporting adults with learning disabilities.

She started working at Springfield University Hospital in south London as a health care assistant on a ward for adults with eating disorders seven years ago, and is now proud to be working as a registered nursing associate.

“I have a lot of life experience which I feel I can use to support and encourage the individuals in my care,” she says. “I also enjoy being a supervisor to HCAs and mentoring new trainee nursing associates.”

I feel like I've grown in confidence 

The nursing associate training was tricky at times, Angela says, but she’s so glad she did it. “I still get nervous sometimes, but by challenging myself I feel like I’ve grown in confidence and as a person. It’s good to stretch yourself,” she says.

“I’d recommend the course to others interested because it can open a lot of doors.”

Individualised care

One of the things Angela likes most about her role is having one-to-one time with patients, as well as supporting them with their care plans.

“That focused time can be really rewarding,” she says.

“Of course, as with many other roles, there are challenges working in mental health, but it’s important to keep an open mind, and focus on what's best for the patient.”

Angela explains it can be upsetting when she goes into the dining room and sees patients struggling to eat.

“It’s sad and it touches you,” she says. “I encourage them and try to understand what they’re thinking. Not everyone recovers quickly but it feels good to play a part – however small – in helping people along the way.”

Francine, a nursing associate on the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) ward at Springfield, says it's the little things she loves the most about her role.

“The smallest things can make a big difference. Even simple things like washing and brushing someone’s hair – anything that might help make a young person in distress feel better and get back to their usual self.”

It means a lot to see patients getting better 

For Francine, who's worked in mental health for 10 years, health care is something she always wanted to do. “I absolutely love my role,” she says. “It means a lot to see patients getting better and when they get to go home. We’ve had a few young people recently who have gone on to university and that makes me smile so much.”

Francine qualified as a nursing associate in December 2019. “It wasn’t always easy – balancing work, study and home life – but it was one of the best decisions I’ve made,” she says. “It’s amazing the things you learn. I’d say the course is great for anyone wanting to take a further step in their nursing career.”

As well as providing care to their patients, both say it's important all staff make sure they look after themselves too.

Francine says: “For me, I’ve always been good at leaving work behind, but sometimes there are patients you can’t take your mind off.

“As a team we talk about things that concern us and that can really help. The pandemic and lockdowns of course made things much more difficult – and there was less chance to offload after a challenging day – but we all found a way through.”

The nursing associate role is a position in its own right 

Francine enjoys her role and is in no rush to change, but hopes to be a registered nurse one day. “Wherever the future leads I would like to stay in mental health – perhaps also doing some outreach work,” she adds.

Angela says she's very happy with where she is now in her career. “The nursing associate role is a position in its own right,” she says. “And I’m glad I took the opportunity to become one.” She adds. “I would encourage others to consider the role for themselves because you learn so many skills, and the placement experience is great.”

Stephen Jones, RCN Professional Lead for Mental Health, says:

"Angela and Francine’s focus on care and compassion is essential. What’s more, the technical elements of their roles and university-level critical thinking, which they use on a day-to-day basis, helps to improve patient outcomes and their own job satisfaction.

"The nursing associate (NA) role in mental health is new, but is already helping to close the inequalities gap between physical health in mental health. NAs gain a diversity of knowledge and skills through training in both physical health and mental health care.

"The NA role is only available in England currently but there are alternative career paths in mental health care you can follow wherever you’re based."

Useful resources

Find out more about careers resources for NSWs 

Join the Mental Health Forum

Find out more about the nursing associate role

Words by Sophie Goode. Photo of Angela by Jonathan Perugia

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