Claire Blake

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Claire Blake is an Adult Nursing alumna who graduated straight into the Covid-19 pandemic. Nowadays, she is back at BCU as a Lecturer in the College of Nursing and Midwifery.  

Claire’s journey to being a Nurse wasn’t an easy one, which is why she has now published a book, 'How to Make it as a Student Nurse', to support those currently studying Nursing.  

Claire joined us to talk about her journey from mature student to lecturer, her passions around community and primary care nursing, as well as sexual health and transgender awareness education.

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Alumni Podcasts

Discover the incredible journeys of BCU alumni in our captivating podcast series. Join us as we delve into their diverse experiences, successes, and lessons learned, offering inspiring insights into the world beyond graduation.

Alumni Podcasts

Hello and welcome to the BCU Alumni podcast. In each episode, we welcome a different member of the BCU alumni community back onto campus to chat all about what they've been up to since they graduated. Today, we're joined by Claire, an adult nursing alumna who graduated straight into, dare I say it, the COVID 19 pandemic. Nowadays, she's back at BCU as a lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery. 

First question is- Being a nurse isn’t a particularly easy one, which is why she's now published a book, How to Make It as a Student Nurse to support those currently studying Nursing. In this episode, we're really keen to find out about Claire's journey as a mature student to lecturer, her passions around community and primary care nursing, as well as sexual health and transgender awareness, education and what it really is like to write your very own book. 

Claire, thanks so much for joining us today. It's so great to have you here in studio. So you are a bit of a BCU icon, really. During your time at VCU, you were a student blogger. You got involved in so many different aspects of the uni and so many people have been able to watch your journey from where you were to where you are now. 

But it wasn't an easy journey for you. You arrived here as a mature student after years of wanting to be a nurse. So what inspired you to become a nurse in the first place? And can you talk us through the hoops that you had to jump through to get there?  

Yeah. Thank you. And it's a long story, so I'm going to try and keep it short and brief with a shortened version. 

I fell in love with nursing probably about seven years old, and I didn't realize I could be a nurse though at that point I was young. I didn't know what I wanted in life. I was both brought up by an unknown granddad and first my grandad had cancer and he chose to die at home. So seeing that as a seven year old that he had the district nurses coming in, and that's when I first saw what nursing was and I fell in love with these people that was caring for my granddad and the empathy and compassion and the care that they showed him. 

And I just thought, These people are amazing, These are amazing wonder women. But I didn't fully understand the situation because I was only seven. I still didn't really understand what I wanted to be in life. And then further on later on in life, my Nan unfortunately got cancer and died. She went to hospital. But just seeing her go through that, I was 15 years old and not having that knowledge behind what cancer was and how to help her. 

So that gave me my next stepping stone to think, Oh, maybe I need more knowledge around nursing and care to help people in the future. But unfortunately I went through school, my GCSEs. I pretty much I didn't fail, but I got D's and E's which weren't really worth much, which had a massive knock on the confidence, me, and my self-esteem. 

I didn't think I could be a nurse because I always regarded nurses as this high profession. Yeah. And I didn't see myself as that person because I suppose all the life events that happened in the GCSE results. So I went into hospitality because that's what my mum did. So I've worked in hotels. Actually one of my favorite jobs was cleaning bedrooms.  

Very strange, but I loved it and it wasn't till later on I thought, You know what? This isn't my purpose. I just didn't feel motivated. Although I loved the work of cleaning bedrooms for whatever reason. Yeah, it just there was just something missing. And so I was looking around and I spoke to one of my friends who said, I can see you being a nurse. 

And I thought, Nah, I couldn't be a nurse.. So then I thought, okay, let's have a little Google search. Yeah. So I had a little search online just to see what nurses involved, what it entailed, how I could become a nurse. And one of the first things that came up was care home nursing for elderly people. 

I don't know if that's the right terminology. Elderly adults, I suppose, is the right term now. And so I thought, okay, let's give this a go. So I applied to a local care home around the corner from my house, literally stepping stone away, apply locally, got the job, and that's when I really fell in love with nursing.  

And I said, Wow, okay, this is why I want to be a nurse, because I just felt like I was just making a difference to everybody around me. Even as a care assistant. And in the care home, we didn't have nurses as such, but we had the district nurses again come out. This is probably why I fell in love with community type nursing and GP nursing, because I've always had that community based background and from a young age. 

But I was just I was so fascinated by these nurses coming in and I'd sit with them a minute to try and help where I could with the dressings and things like that. I just loved it. And that's when I thought, okay, maybe I should think about going into nursing. And but again, my confidence and everything, I thought, I don't know if I'm smart enough to get through university. 

They just cut all the diplomas because nursing used to be a diploma. Yeah. So it became a degree only profession. And that really put me off again because my confidence wasn't very academic. I thought about the dissertation I might have to write because that's all I heard about when I was Googling degrees. And I just I was really put off by it. 

And it wasn't until I was speaking to one of the carers that I worked with and she had just got into do her nursing and she's a very good carer, no fault to her, she's very bright, she's very intelligent. But it was this one day that she came up to me and she said, This patient is asked for a boiled egg on toast. 

I can't boil an egg. And I was like, But you're going to be a nurse. You know, but it was at that point I thought, you know what? If she can go into nursing and be a nurse, she can't boil an egg, then I think I might have some sort of a chance because I can cook. 

Not that nursing involves cooking, but that's where my brain process went at that age anyway. But that's where I fell in love with nursing in the care home and really caring for patients and seeing the compassion and the care and what nurses did and that's when I applied. Yeah. Okay. I mean, you keep saying about the confidence thing. 

Yeah. So am I right in thinking then that you applied actually a few years before you arrived at BCU.? 

Yeah. Sorry I forgot to mention this, but yeah, I originally applied unattended BCU. I think it was 2012 intake. I want to say afterwards, because I'd found the GCSEs and everything, I had to go and do retake everything. 

And then I did the access course to get me into university. But yeah, 2012 I got into uni, I did six months and at the time I was living with my best friend at the time. She was going through a hell of a divorce and things like that and we just had like a horrific argument one day about really silly things and she kicked me out, made me homeless from it, which wasn't the best. 

So my family don't live in Birmingham. They're all sort of scattered around the country. But my mum at the time was living in Milton Keynes, so I decided to move back in with my mum in Milton Keynes and try and commute. So on placement at the time. So tried to commute to placement from Milton Keynes, from Milton Keynes, which was horrific. 

And it drained all of my money. I just had nowhere to go. And it got to the point where I had to give up uni. It just got ridiculous. I was knackered. I did speak to my personal tutor about everything and just didn't get far at the time with them, fortunately. But there's only so much that personal advice she can do anyway and it's like signposting and support and things. 

I don't blame anyone, but yep, I made that decision. I've got to quit and get some money behind me and then try again in the future. And so yeah, so I left and that's when I went into sexual health and did all of that and got the experience. And I thought, okay, now it's time to go back and applied to BCU in 2017. 

Okay, So after graduating in early 2020 then and I think we all know what's coming here, you obviously entered the NHS just as COVID 19 began. What were your kind of initial steps after graduating then, and what was it like to be working on the front line? It's kind of such a pivotal time for the NHS. Yeah, it was scary.  

Um, I mean, first I graduated, I got my job, so I went straight into GP nursing because as a student nurse, when we have our block placements. Again, it goes back to a thing. I've always had those district nurses community feel-based experiences, so maybe that's why I went down that route. 

I don't know. But one of my placements was GP and I fell in love with GP, so that's where I wanted to go and that's what I made a beeline for and that's what I went into. So yeah, so I started the GP nurse in February and you could see the wave of the pandemic come in. I mean you could see it from country. 

We went into lockdown way too late, but it was very scary because I didn't know what was going to happen. I was a newly qualified nurse. I didn't know what was going to be expected of me if it'd be reallocated to the hospitals to help out. Yeah, I'd had a worst case scenario going on in my head. But and I feel awful because I feel so guilty because I actually had it good compared to other people. 

I was speaking to my friends that were in the same cohort as me out on the wards and they would be made to care for COVID patients without PPE and all sorts of horrific stories. They were dealing with a lot of deaths. There was no no beds for patients, so they were having to care for people in corridors.  

They were telling me that in one particular hospital, in hospital they were lying dead people up in corridors and covering them and because there was nowhere to put them. And I just thought, wow, I've got it lucky because I was okay. What they did for us was we just had less patients coming in because we didn't know the impact of the virus.  

We didn't know what it was going to. Long term will always affect patients, how it was going to happen. So we all clinics would just reduce. I've seen about three patients a day, so wasn't getting that experience I think that I might have done without a pandemic as a newly qualified nurse. Yeah. Not only that, all of my training was put on hold, so to be a GP nurse, you need to do the fundamentals or foundations of general practice nurse. 

Of course that was all put on hold until September, October time. So I was just sort of thrown in with no real experience of GP, s no real training, no real supervisions in a way that's sort of my experience of the pandemic. But then I did get involved in the vaccines rollout, which was very, very nice and I remember going into that first clinic where we didn't know what to expect. 

It was really weird atmosphere. Everyone was excited but really nervous because it was the first vaccine we were given. We didn't know if people can have allergies, allergic reactions, things like that. We didn't know what the impact of this would be. But given that first injection was just amazing and it was such a nice feeling to think, You know what, I'm doing something. 

Yeah, like while all my friends were in the hospitals dealing with that side, I was doing the prevention side and the rolling out the vaccine with all the other nurses in the community. It was just it was really, really nice feeling to be part of that. And seeing the patients come in and they were so proud, nervous, but really proud and really happy, and they'd bring in chocolates and thank you letters and stuff for us for helping. 

So it's really nice now that we deserve the thanks. I think the scientists behind the vaccine deserve the thanks for all of that. Yeah. So it was a really weird time and very lonely as well because we were in the lockdown as well. Yeah. So it's quite lonely as a newly qualified nurse going into that. But luckily we did have like WhatsApp groups and things like that for the online support, I suppose. 

Okay. So after working as a GP nurse, you returned to BCU last year, was it? 

I returned in December, yeah, December 22. Okay. So I guess what is it like to now be back at university as a staff member? And also what does your role actually really involve? Yeah, so first I love being back, but as soon as I left BCU, I knew I wanted to come back because I just I loved it as a student. 

I got really involved. Like you said earlier, I was doing everything I was part of, like the YouTubing. The vlog in society was at the society, I was part of. BCU Yeah. And I got involved in all the events occurs on campus. I wasn't just staying at my campus. I was on all the campuses getting to know everybody. 

So I knew when I left I really grieved for BCU, so I knew I'd be back. So when I went and got my experience of the GP nurse and everything, and then I decided that, okay, now's the time, I've had three years experience, let's come back and try and do some lecturing and just remember that first day coming in, meeting Emma Winterton, who was my manager at the time, and just being in because I'm just so happy to be back. 

I was like, Yes, I'm at home now and it's just been really nice. Everyone's been so supportive, really lovely to be a part of my role. So a lot of people will think lecturing, including myself. I thought a lot of it would be teaching, and that's only a tiny percentage of the role. Actually, a lot of it is supporting students.  

So I'm a personal tutor for 24 students at the minute. Oh, wow. And I'm an academic assessor for those students. And I've got the students that I do academic assessors for as well, which means that we just sign off the like practice placement documents and things like that. But there's a lot of admin involved as well, a lot of marking. 

So not just for my module. So I'm allocated to the leadership module at the minute, but I will do marking on other modules as well. There's a second year module that I've marked on and i mark on my own module as well. Um, what else I do skill sessions as well as we get involved with the skill sessions. 

So things like injection technique, life support being a puncture cannulation, the catheter, personal care, all those sort type skill sessions we do as well and get involved in events. So the open days, the applicant taster day, the teacher and learning event that I went to yesterday, which was amazing. That was really nice to get involved in and see the different innovations that are going around different universities and colleges and things that we can implement in know in our uni as well.  

Um, what else do I do a lot like, you know, that's just a small part, I think. I'm sure I'm missing a lot more. Okay, so you are also, you know, super passionate about sexual health and transgender awareness education. So I guess what got you involved in these aspects of nursing and how is it that you educate people around these issues as well?  

Yeah, So I oh gosh, I really know it sounds weird. People think I'm so weird for saying sexual health, but I was a healthcare assistant in sexual health for six years. And I remember before we started that job, I was watching a program, I think it was called the Sex Clinic on Channel four. I want to say. Yeah, I remember that possibly. 

I remember thinking, Oh my God, what an amazing job. And so I just literally looked on NHS jobs, just having a look sexual health type and it came up as the health care system and I applied and actually got the job, but I did revise for that job for about two weeks solid every day, get to know of of every sexual health condition, because I knew with fears and phobias and confidence I had to make the interview.  

And luckily I showed enough passion to get the job, I think They're doing everything. So we saw patients, we did testing on patients. We work with all the consultants, the nurses, different specialists as well. It was just amazing. It's such a fascinating area. Yeah. And so that's where a lot of my knowledge of sexual health and then the transgender element came in and more so as a GP nurse.  

I had my first trans patient come in and they were having a hormone injection. And I remember thinking, I've never had any education on this, I've never had any training and on trans patients. I don't know what this hormones do into the body. You don't fully understand it. And I didn't want anything to affect my care to any patients who might be trans in future. 

So I thought, let me just do some research. And I went to my manager and I said, Is there any training available for trans patients? And I just got an outright no. There's an LGBT away day at the schools, but there's not anything specific for trans patients, which is really sad. So I did some digging. I did my own research for the next couple of years, just looking around different guidelines, policies, research papers, and the more I looked into it, the more I saw. 

There's a lot of inequalities within health care and discrimination. I want to say a towards trans patients within health care, which made me even more motivated because I really wanted to make change and do something about it. So then I set up some webinars to deliver to health care staff just to help in whatever way I can, just from all the knowledge that I'd gained.  

But not only that, my husband is a transgender man as well. He's very open and passionate about sharing his experience, especially on socials. He likes to help out and just was more aware. And so I've roped him into doing the webinars. We think we couldn't do this without an actual patient because I don't know anything about being a transgender person. 

It's got to come from the people themselves. So he's very kindly been roped into this, which he's enjoying. I think now he's getting a bit more confident, but it's nice to hear his story and it really helps people understand, I think, trans patients and what they go through, not just what we've got to do for them, like follow ups or blood pressures or given this injection, but just really understanding what what it means to be transgender. 

So it's been a massive help and we've had really good feedback from it as well. Everyone's really took on board things and make changes in the workplace. I think from it as well. I think it was that. Yeah, that is amazing actually. Like I said, funny enough on the topic of social media, then you are very active on social media. 

So how important do you think these channels have been for you in growing a community? 

Oh, massive. To be honest, when when I first started university, I didn't plan on doing any social media stuff or anything. I just wanted to get my head down past uni and get back to work as it is. 

But then I wrote my first year as a student nurse. It was about six months in. I think they had a successful event at the university and we had this amazing speaker come in. He was like a motivational speaker, comedian, and and one thing he said to me just really resonated with me and just made me change my life with social media. 

And he said, You want to just get your head down throughout these whole three years past uni and then look back years later and regret not doing enough and doing more. And I was like, Oh my God, that's me. He's talking to me, he's talking to me. This lightbulb just went off in my head. It was weird. It was like chink and I was changed person. 

I woke up and I thought, Yes, I'm going to start. Twitter was the first thing I thought I'm going to sign up on Twitter because I was shown Twitter reels and stuff on the day as well. So that's my first project. And I start Twitter, started getting active on Twitter. Then I started blogging to start with because I wanted to blog, but I wasn't confident enough to blog.  

So I thought, Let's just start blogging. So I started writing some blogs and then I went on to a GP placement and I thought, I want to do more and more GP placement. So that's when I started doing videos out, picked up the courage to start a YouTube channel, and then it just took off from there really. And then through that and through constantly posted on Twitter.  

Other nurses and networks followed me, and then I had a random inbox from an NHS leader who I shall not name asking me to speak at a conference. So it's a GP nurse and conference would be a room full of GP's and nurses to talk about my experience as a student nurse on placement and why GP's should take nurses on student nurses to have for placement.  

Why it's important to do that for us, what we can learn from them, but only to how to know how to sort of recruit and more newly qualified nurses into GP as well, and showing our experience to make them want us as well. So at first I was like, Yeah, why not? Whatever. I didn't realize who I was speaking to, had never heard the name or anything before, and I can't remember who was at the university. 

Yeah. Because again, going back to my confidence, that was when the panic set in as well, because I was thinking I'm going have to stand on stage and speak to all these people. I've never done anything like this before. This makes me nervous just thinking about it still. But yeah, but just, just from that I did. And obviously did it.  

And again, I tweeted about it. I blogged about it, I showed pictures of it. And you just kind of create this little ripple effect. The more positivity out the the more positivity you create within the social media sphere. And you just create really nice networks and social media. For me, it's just been a massive positive, mostly until the last couple of years, but it's just been amazing. 

It's just been really good and not only for networking with different nurses around the world and the country and getting opportunities like conferences, but helping students out as well. As a student, I was helping other students by sharing my journey. Positive quotes and things like that that we share. And just to help people get motivated again about nursing. 

And even now I still get messages from people saying, I always hear your voice on my head saying, You've got this because that's what I always say. You've got this, you can do this. And it's just so nice to get messages like that from people and that I've made that impact. Yeah, it's just, yeah, going to get emotional like. 

Yeah, so I've actually got your brand new book here, I mean, it must just be like, amazing to see your very own published book. 

But what was it that actually inspired you to write it in the first place? And also, at what point did you start working on it? Was while you're actually a student  

Like a book. Yeah. And I let you just opened a word document, put a few words on paper, put some sort of plan of action of what I'd put into a book if I was to write one. And then it got left. I got over for ages. And it wasn't until Anne Marie Dobson helped me out. So thank you, Anne-Marie. 

She knew somebody else Xavier publish in place and said, Oh, Claire might be a good person to contact. So they got hold of me and said, Oh, would you mind helping out with some socials and things like that? And I said, Yes, obviously, because I want to do everything. And I said, Oh, I've got this book idea just on the off chance in one of the meetings is I've got this book idea, but I don't have is a good idea. 

And I pitched it to them and she said, This sounds amazing. Send me whatever you've got and we'll have a look and we'll just go for it. Okay? So then as I'm going to have to actually write a book and finish it now, but I let you just put everything in all my blogs, YouTube videos is listed in the book and more.  

Yeah, that's what I said. So what is it that you're like hoping that she didn't actually get out of the book then? And also, what is the kind of one piece of advice that you would give to a current student nurse? Well, first, I hope that somebody gets something from the book. I genuinely wish I had that. And this is why I started blogging and blogging as well, because I wish I had something like this when I was a student. 

Because when I was looking for things about nursing and what nurses do and things like that, there was nothing out there. It was all American based YouTubers and it wasn't really translating to the UK, if that makes sense. So that's why I started my YouTube as well. I didn't think about who's going to watch me, I just thought this might help somebody else. 

So I just did it and didn't think about it. So I'm hoping that something in this book is going to help students out there because it's all the stuff that nobody really tells you. You've got your anatomy and physiology books, you've got a drug calculation type of books, but nobody really breaks things down from start to finish. And that's what the book is, is a whole journey applying to university, how to apply, how to back that interview coming from someone that's really unconfident, that couldn't get through interviews. 

And then just through the three years of university life, through assignments, exams, how to write an assignment, how what is that jump from level four to level six? What does that look like? How to get better assignment writing. And not only that, but things about mental health failures, dealing with getting a failure. This is just loads. I'm hoping that it's going to help someone out somewhere. 

I think at the minute. I know nursing is really tough. I mean, I've had to come off Twitter for a bit. I know it's been very positive for me, but it's really negative at the minute with how nursing is, the government, the politics and I hate getting involved in that sort of discussion. So I have taken a little break away from Twitter. 

So I think my biggest advice is keep going, but take some time out because you absolutely need it right now. Take some time out for yourself. And if you have to take a break away, take a break away because at the end of the day, nursing is always going to be around. We're always going to need nurses. Nursing is massive.  

You can go anywhere in the world, anywhere with it, but you might not be here forever. So it's really important that people look after themselves before anything else and just take that time out and then come back for the best care for the patients as well. Not just themselves, but the knock on effect will be the patients. Yeah. 

Okay. So this is something we actually love to do in every episode. A Birmingham quick by round. So obviously, you know, you studied and work here. So what is your favorite spot on the BBC campus. Oh, okay. From my student days it was the hill in the back of school. Yeah. Anyone that doesn't know there's like a big hill and it's got a little bench on the top. 

I don't actually know. It's still there and it's go up and have a look. But that was our spot. Like we loved going up there, especially when the sun shine in. It's just nice. You get the sun and you've got the nice view of the uni behind. You got a lot of our photos were up there and then as a lecturer popping there. 

Yeah, like your own spot, actually. I'm like, Yeah, some of you have got my own little office. I can go to the staff kitchen now and make myself a cup of tea instead of going to Starbucks. Oh, football? Oh really? Blues or villa, I'm not a football fan at all, but my husband is a Baggies fan, so I'm going to have to go baggies for him.  

And what is your, like, favorite, like Brummie slang word? Gambol just because it sounds hilarious. I'm not from Birmingham, By the way, for those who might not know what this is, I it's like a forward roll. It's a really. So you've been selected as one of our barrier breakers at this year's AM Not festival. 

So what does that mean to. I think that's amazing. Oh, it's really nice. It warms my heart that anyone thinks I'm a nice barrier breaker, but actually I'm quite proud to break barriers as well because I know the way society is. You've got this social expected nations of people and you should do things this way or that way or, you know, you should have a job by a certain age or you should go to university or you should have children and be married.  

But a 39 and a half now and I've only just got my life in order. So I think there's no right way to be in this world. And society puts that pressure on you a think and don't be afraid to break barriers, to break the norm as long as you do it in a professional nice way. That's not hurting anybody else, obviously. 

But yeah, we should all go for breaking barriers every now and then. Yeah, step outside our comfort zones and do the impossible. And final question then, if you could go back to your very first day here at BCU in 2017, 2017, what is the one piece of advice that you would give yourself? Oh, I'll probably stop being so scared because I was terrified for the first three months properly, I didn't speak to anybody. 

Well, I tried. No, that's a lie. I tried twice and I didn't make any friends. But yeah, I was like, I'm really socially awkward. Anyway, a massive introvert and I like my home comfort. So coming to uni with all new people you don't know anybody was terrifying. So I wish I could just go back and just give myself a shake and say it's going to be okay. 

You're going to make friends, Keep going. Yeah. I think it's tough. As well as a mature student coming into uni and trying to make friends anyway, but it was alright and luckily I did make friends and I had a really nice group. 

 So thanks so much dropping by and coming onto the podcast. We hope to see you again very soon. 

Thank you.