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Taking up a post at St Luke’s is always going to be more than ‘just’ starting a new job.

What our charity does for patients and their families, uplifting them at a very challenging time, means that whether you have direct contact with them or are in a more behind-the-scenes role, there’s the reward of knowing you’re part of a very special team making a vital difference in your community. But it goes beyond that, too, because we invest in our staff and, as part of a package that also includes a generous annual leave allowance, pension and healthcare scheme, we offer them development opportunities as well

When Rachel Vosper was working as a Healthcare Assistant (HCA) at Turnchapel, where we look after our most vulnerable patients, she enjoyed learning all about the practical needs of people in our care, all the while nurturing her long-held dream of becoming a nurse. Now – thanks to an exciting opportunity for her to take a big step towards that goal by training as our first Nursing Associate – she’s feeling more fulfilled than ever.

Rachel said: “Working as an HCA was fantastic, but the longing to be a nurse never left me. It felt quite disheartening at times, really wanting to learn more about the clinical care patients need but feeling held back because I couldn’t afford to study for the degree you need to enter nursing. So I was over the moon when I found out about the opportunity to train as a Nursing Associate at St Luke’s. I’d never even heard the job title before and couldn’t wait to know more!”

The University of Plymouth’s Pre-registration Nursing Associate programme is an apprenticeship open to both new and existing healthcare staff, enabling them to study for a fully funded foundation degree and obtain a professional qualification and registration with the Nursing & Midwifery Council. Once qualified, Nursing Associates can work across a wide range of healthcare settings and clinical areas, including acute or community hospitals, community nursing teams, GP practices and hospices.

Rachel said: “As a mum of two, being able to earn while I learn is key for me. Training as a Nursing Associate at St Luke’s means I can work towards my qualification while being paid a salary, and the structure of working four days a week and studying at the Uni on the other day means I still get to enjoy time with my family on my days off. It’s working out really well – I always want to learn more and keep challenging myself, and being at St Luke’s I know I’m learning from the best.

“What helps, too, is the great support I get from colleagues, from our doctors, nurses and HCAs to the Education and Social Care teams. It isn’t just about the clinical skills I’m gaining – like taking blood, catheterisation of patients and giving them their medication – it’s learning more about how to have those sensitive conversations with families and giving the emotional support patients and their loved ones need.”

As part of their training, Rachel and her fellow University students spend time reflecting on their practice so that they continue to improve. She said: “It gives me the chance to really absorb new experiences and help me do my best – I want to feel I’m doing everything I possibly can to make sure patients receive excellent care.”

While the pandemic means that Rachel’s study has had to take place online in recent months, and that certain placements have been cancelled, she has benefited from spending time with district nurses, learning about their role, as well as from a placement at a local GP surgery.

She said: “All this means I’m getting a well-rounded experience that’s giving me greater understanding of other healthcare roles and how they work together.

“I’m excited about the future, especially working more closely with our doctors and nurses and having my own patients to look after. I hope I can help those who may take up the opportunity to train in the future. I’d really like to support them in achieving their goals, too.”

With an eye on the horizon, Rachel knows that qualifying as a Nursing Associate means she can, when she’s ready, get a faster track to achieving her ambition of becoming a nurse by entering direct to the second year of degree study at the University.

Nicola Pereira, Head of Inpatient Nursing Services at St Luke’s, said: “As an HCA, Rachel was already an asset to St Luke’s and now she’s a trailblazer as she works towards becoming our first qualified Nursing Associate. It is always rewarding seeing members of the team develop and fulfil their potential, so it’s brilliant seeing her go from strength to strength.”

For more on working with St Luke’s – and details of our current vacancies – click here.

With people living longer and developing more complex conditions, having GPs who understand end of life care, and do not shy away from difficult but necessary conversations with patients about death and dying, is more important than ever.

Given this, you may be surprised to hear that it is not mandatory for GPs to gain experience within hospice care as part of their training. Rather, it is an option they can select as one of the three rotations they are required to complete on their way to becoming qualified.

Recently, we spoke to Dr Malik Dinata, a trainee GP who has chosen to spend four months on rotation with St Luke’s, to see our service through his eyes and find out how his experience with us will help to prepare him for his career in general practice.

Based within our multidisciplinary clinical team at Turnchapel, Dr Malik has been particularly struck that the time he spends with patients on the ward is unhurried. This means he is able to focus on more than their physical symptoms, getting to know them and their history and finding out about their hopes, expectations and concerns – something that would not be possible within the very pressured environment of acute care.

Dr Malik said: “It is very precious to be able to work with St Luke’s. I get to sit with my patient and practice medicine as it is supposed to be.”

Dealing with death, dying and someone’s last days of life can be one of the most stressful parts of a doctor’s role, and Dr Malik credits the support he receives from his supervisor,

St Luke’s Lead Consultant Dr Jeff Stephenson, and other colleagues, for ensuring he feels ‘safe and comforted’ in a setting many would find very challenging.

He said: “We always touch base before I see a patient so that we can discuss the approach that’s most appropriate for them, and then afterwards colleagues check in with me to ask how it went and how the patient responded.”

On average, a GP surgery has 2,000 patients, with around 20 of them – one per cent – living with terminal illness. To help them be as comfortable and as at ease as possible as they approach the end of their lives, they need the specialist care and support of hospices like St Luke’s, where the help they receive is holistic and tailored specifically to them.

Trainee GPs like Dr Malik, who spend time gaining valuable experience in a hospice setting, are not only more equipped to diagnose accurately and prescribe accordingly, they are more confident having the sensitive yet necessary open conversations about death and dying that help their patient fulfil their wishes about their last months, weeks and days of life.

Dr Jeff said: “Being on rotation with us is a wonderful opportunity for future GPs to gain intensive exposure to looking after people who are terminally ill.

“Importantly, while they’re with us, trainees also learn when to admit a patient to hospital and when it’s more appropriate for them to receive care at home, which is key to avoiding unnecessary admissions.”

Listening to Dr Malik, it is clear that our organisation has made a positive and lasting impression on him that he will carry forward into practice.

He said: “St Luke’s is such a unique environment where people, including the patients themselves, learn to become more accepting of their mortality.

“It’s so important for GPs to know how things should be done. At St Luke’s I’ve seen the ‘gold standard’ and it will benefit my future practice – it will be my point of reference and remind me what I need to do for my patients.

“You don’t gain this type of valuable experience from reading about it in textbooks or hearing about it in lectures. You get it from practice at St Luke’s.”