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BCU’s first Nurses: What happened to the class of 1989

UNIVERSITY NEWS LAST UPDATED : 02 JULY

This week marks the 73rd birthday of the NHS. In a year that has been extremely challenging for the NHS and healthcare workers, BCU has continued to power the front line, with hundreds of alumni starting work during the global pandemic.

BCU’s range of Nursing degrees continue to be some of the most popular courses that the University offers, with over a thousand nursing and midwifery graduates entering the world of work every single year.

But before 1989, the UK didn’t offer many Nursing degrees and those that did exist took place over four years.

BCU welcomed the first intake of student nurses in 1989; the very first cohort to complete the degree in three years. The course allowed students to learn as much as those on a four-year option, but in a shorter time frame. The course, headed up by former Faculty Dean Judith Hitchin and Course Director Jane Fox, soon got to work on challenging the stereotypes surrounding student nurses and preparing them for the world of work.

But what happened to the University’s very first intake? Many of them have stayed in touch, attended each other’s weddings and are proud of the strong bond they still have. After reuniting as a group in early 2020, we brought the cohort together again for an online reunion and caught up with eight of them to find out what life has brought their way.

Mark Kingston, second from left on top row. Angela Vope, third from right on bottom row. Elizabeth Bowring-Lossock, first right on middle row. Jacqui Ritchie, third from left on top row. Claire Buckle, first on left on bottom row. Nikki Sethi, second from right on bottom row. Alison Doyle, fifth from left on top row. Clare Williams, centre on middle row.

Angela Vope

Angela, originally from Devon, moved to New Jersey, USA, early in her career before returning to the UK to grow her family.

“I grew up in Devon, and moved to Birmingham for university then finding work in Oxford as a mental health nurse  before eventually moving to New Jersey.  Now, I’m back in the village where I grew up.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I was a teenager, but a tutor at college told me that there was a new Nursing degree that I could do in three years rather than four, and that really appealed to me.

“Before university, I thought that the course would be really hard and it would be my first time living away from home.  I do remember university being a lot of fun, I met lots of friends but it was also a lot of hard work too. I remember spending hours in the library and writing everything out of books too. I have since done other degree courses and using a computer and Google which is amazing compared to back them!  The other nursing students and myself lived in halls in first year, which was actually Highcroft Hospital – an old psychiatric hospital in Erdington.

“Nowadays, I am a Nursing Sister working as a Practice Nurse in a doctor’s surgery specialised in respiratory care. I’ve been there for seven years, it’s near where I live and it fits in really well with my family. Before that, I was a district nurse for the same surgery and previously, I was working in New Jersey. Whilst in America, I worked in intensive care. I retrained to be a General Nurse whilst over there and because I’d already got my degree from BCU, I was able to do this but it was still hard work and I still needed to go to University there. I met my husband whilst working in America, and then returned to the UK to be nearer to my parents.

“Outside of work, I’ve been married for 21 years with two daughters who are 15 and 17. We also have a lovely dog.  I’m really into fitness and reading and of course lots of extra nursing courses including a teaching degree.

Elizabeth Bowring-Lossock

Elizabeth, from Hereford, was inspired to go into Nursing after seeing her mum be a nurse for many years. She returned to academia 18 years ago, but this time, as a lecturer.

“Growing up, my mum was a nurse, and she bumped into a friend who was a nursing tutor and she mentioned that there was this new course and suggested applying for it. I went for the interview and got in. At that time, it was really something that there was going to be a four-year degree in three years.

“I remember my time at university as a lot of fun. I remember the Paternoster lifts very clearly! There was a rumour that the lifts turned upside down if you got to the top of the building, but that wasn’t true. We had to actually use books in the library then too! I remember lots of things, it’s funny what you remember.

“I think I’ve been to everyone’s weddings and I enjoyed them all! The person I’ve kept in touch with the most is Mark, as we are from the same area and are family friends. But I’ve seen others on the course across the years. When we get together, it is like stepping back in time. We look different, but it is a natural feeling for us all to be together.

“I am currently a Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at Cardiff University and I’ve been at the university in various roles for over 18 years. Before joining, I worked in a secure unit as a Ward Manager and whilst I was there, I started teaching fellow staff and students."

Mark Kingston

Mark grew up in Hereford before moving to Birmingham for university. Nowadays, Mark is working in the ‘outback’ of Australia.

“I was working in social services in a residential home, looking after older adults, when I found out about the course. I’d done some A Levels, so thought I should get a job that pays better. I went to the local hospital and asked about becoming a general nurse, and they suggested that I go to university for this new three-year course.”

“After graduating, I spent over 20 years working in New Zealand before moving over to Australia. I’ve gone between clinical roles in mental health and education roles since my time at university. In New Zealand, I was a lecturer in Nursing for eight years before returning to clinical nursing and getting involved in counselling and therapy too. Now, I’m a Nurse Educator in a Mental Health service in Mount Isa and I’ve been here for two years.

“I live in the ‘outback’ of North-West Queensland and it’s quite a rugged and hardworking place to live, with a really small community. It can get up to 45 degrees here and I need to be creative how I structure my time because there's limited amenities and activities in the town. Nevertheless, I do feel part of the community and the outback is an amazing space and there's plenty to see and experience if you put your mind to it. I’ve got two sons, one back in New Zealand and the other is down is Brisbane, and I try to see them as much as I can.”

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Jacqui Ritchie

Jacqui, from York, wanted to go into nursing so badly that she purposely didn’t revise for her A Levels. It worked out though, as she is now the Managing Director for a leading care home provider.

“I applied for medical school, but I wanted to be a nurse and the only way I could be a nurse was to throw my grades. When I got my A Level results, my parents weren’t happy and wanted me to re-sit them, but I explained about this new Nursing degree in Birmingham that is only three years. I had a telephone interview the same day and got accepted onto the course.

“It was a new course and we were all thrown together from totally different backgrounds; that really gave us a strong bond and that’s why so many of us are still in touch now. We had a great work-life balance, and we knew how to work hard and play hard. We were given so many placements across the region too. At the time, there was a critical care nursing shortage in the West Midlands, so our course was very much built around the needs of the workforce.

“We had an amazing time and we were there for each other. I think people were frightened about our level of knowledge whilst on placement, as a lot of it was very medical, which meant that when we did graduate, we were very good general nurses. Every now and then, I remember information that was taught to us 30 years ago, and it helps even now.

“The friendships on the course were really important. Our friendships are the kind that it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak to each other for a couple of years. In our day, there wasn’t social media so that has been a huge help to stay in touch in recent years.

“I am now Managing Director for Scotland and the North of England for Four Seasons Healthcare Group, which is a care home provider. Previously, I was an executive director of private hospitals, and before that, I worked in intensive care for many years.

“Nowadays, I am married with two children. My daughter is also currently studying for her Nursing degree, so I’m regularly supporting her through her course. My son is going to university in Scotland in September and is keen to be professional rugby player, so you can normally find me on the side of a rugby pitch screaming my head off! I also spend a lot of time in the gym and catching up with friends.”

Claire Buckle

Claire, from Stockport, now lives in London. After joining the 1989 cohort through Clearing, Claire discovered her passion of working with children while travelling.

“Before Clearing, I didn’t know whether to do nursing, physiotherapy or speech therapy.. The fact that the Nursing degree was three years rather than four was a big selling point for the course.

“At university, we had a great time all living together. We were all very close. I do remember feeling resentful when we were on placement, and friends on other courses were only having a few hours of lectures a week. But looking back, our placements were really good and so diverse across the Midlands. We had such variety. Our lecturers were also very interesting. Looking back, it was a good experience for us all.

“After I qualified, I worked in Romania for six months, looking after children with HIV and then I decided to move into paediatrics rather than adult nursing. In 1996, I qualified in Child Nursing to complement my degree, and I’ve been at the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital in London ever since. I worked in intensive care for many years, but I am now Matron of Paediatrics and I’ve been in the role for five years.

“Life didn’t really work out how I wanted it to. I wanted to have children and be a mother but I never met the right person. But my career has been based on being surrounded by children. I go to the North West to visit my family whenever I can. In London, I spend time at the theatre, meet friends and visit places. I have also done a lot of international travel, including China, India and Iceland. Travelling is a big passion of mine.”

Nikki Sethi

At 18, Nikki was unsure what she wanted to do with her life. But after moving from Malvern to Birmingham for university, Nikki found her dream role and has been there ever since.

“University was a bit of an accident for me really. I was at college and didn’t know what I wanted to do, but someone from the University came to speak to us and did a talk about the course, so I applied.

“We had a great time at university and we all got on so well. Our placements did allow us to do a bit of everything over those three years. But there were a lot of people who didn’t like the fact that we were doing a degree and they didn’t understand the academic route of nursing at the time.

“When we reunited last year, it felt like nothing had changed. We’re older and life has changed, but underneath it, everyone is still exactly the same as they were in 1989, which is a nice, comforting thing. Even if it is just the occasional message, it is so nice that we are still in touch with each other.

“I’ve been in the same job for 27 years, in the same post and the same building, and I love it. It is a second family to me, and I have no plans to leave. I am a Community Mental Health Nurse in Birmingham and I work with older adults. The team has been the same for years, it is such a nice place to work and nobody tends to leave.

“Outside of work, I got married to someone who we lived with at university, but we eventually got divorced. My son is 24 and he is a primary school teacher and my daughter is going to university in September to also study primary education. Outside of work, I see family and friends and I do like a night out from time to time.”

Alison Doyle

Alison, from Birmingham and now living in Warwickshire, has worked across several health care sectors since studying at university.

“I studied a pre-nursing course at college in Walsall. Jane Fox was actually leading the course there and it was whilst I was studying there that Jane worked on creating this new three-year course at the university, so I had some inside knowledge and encouragement to apply. Having the three-year option had a great advantage over four years and the pre-course with Jane allowed me to grow in confidence. Little did we know just how much work would be in the three-year course though!

“Back then, Birmingham was great for its music scene. I was into rock and metal music at the time, and I was in the University’s rock society and the real ale society. My placements helped to prepare me for work after university, but we weren’t welcomed by the nursing community at all back then. At that point, there was a lot of talk in the press about ‘super nurses’ and many didn’t like us as they couldn’t understand why we would go down the academic route; they thought we wouldn’t earn our stripes and just want management positions. Other student nurses would think that we would just take their jobs. So it was a challenging time to be a student nurse.

“When we first qualified, there weren’t actually many jobs for nurses at all. I started off in trauma and orthopaedics, then into reconfiguration and transformation and then back into trauma, where I spent many years as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. From there, I went into a Lead Nurse role in falls and fractures where I was also on various national advisory boards. I then was seconded part time to  Public Health with a population health focus, I also completed peer reviews of services.

“In 2017, I left the NHS when an opportunity came up to work for a charity as an Operations and Clinical Director. But in 2020, I returned to the NHS when Covid-19 hit as a Care Excellence lead, before moving into a Pharmaceutical company where I now work.

“I have two children, an 18-year-old son, who is a rugby player and in the process of applying to join the police, and a 20-year-old daughter who works at a health events company. Outside of work, I go to the gym and I love to travel, and I’m also into photography. I still love live music and love to dance, but it’s not as fun when your children reach an age when you could bump into them!”

Clare Williams

Clare, from Lichfield, now lives on the Welsh border. After spending a few years working as a Nurse, Clare discovered her passion for pharmaceuticals before devoting her time to her family.

“I wanted to be a doctor, but my grades were just never going to be enough so the next obvious choice was nursing. I was academically capable and both my mum and grandmother were nurses, so I chose to go down the degree route.

“I loved university and had an absolute ball. It was so much fun and we all got on so well and had an amazing time. We were thrown in at the deep end which gave us that extra special bond with each other and the teaching staff. As we were the first, we had a lot of challenges on placement as there was a lot of negative press and opinions around degree nurses and what we were capable of doing. Because it was such a unique experience for us, we had to support each other and pull each other through. We worked hard, and played harder.

“After graduating, I went straight into a job at a hospital in Southampton and I did further qualifications whilst there. A love interest brought me back to the Midlands, so I joined North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary in Stoke on Trent. But after a few years, a friend of mine inspired me to switch over to pharmaceuticals and I thought it was better suited to me. I worked in pharmaceutical sales for over 15 years and worked my way up the ranks. But I was made redundant when I was pregnant with my first child. Nowadays, I’m a stay at home mum. In recent years, I’ve also built houses, I am a vice-chair on the governing body of a local school and volunteer in my community too.

“My husband and I got married in 2009, and my children are 10 and nine years old. I love being at home with my family, going on holidays, gardening, photography and keeping myself busy.”