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Posted on Aug 5 2021 by Fiona Bailey

Former mechanic Ben Porter decided to trade in cars for people when he joined St Andrew’s Healthcare in 2011.

The 33-year-old from Northampton began working as a Healthcare Assistant (HCA) before realising he wanted more.

Encouraged by his supportive colleagues, Ben signed up to the ASPIRE Programme. Launched by St Andrew’s Healthcare in 2016, it enables HCAs to combine their learning and experience so they can jump straight into the second year of the University of Northampton’s Mental Health Nursing degree – allowing them to complete a nursing degree.

Since it began, the ASPIRE initiative has successfully trained 150 people who have successfully launched a career into nursing. Now a Nurse Manager on a female low secure ward, Ben tells his story.

"Before I joined St Andrew’s I was working as a mechanic and although I enjoyed the job, I started to feel trapped and limited in what I was doing.

At the time, I knew a few people that worked at St Andrew’s. I asked around and heard lots of positive things about working there, so I applied for a Healthcare Assistant (HCA) role.

To be honest at first I hated it. I felt as though I had made a massive mistake and that I was really out of my comfort zone. I was unsure of the expectations and I hated working long shifts.  

However, I was supported really well through my first nine months by some really amazing people, some of which are still here now. They gave me the confidence I needed so I was reassured I could do the job. That was a turning point and I really began to enjoy it.

Soon after that I felt I wanted more responsibility so when a Trainee Assistant Practitioner role came up, I applied and was successful.

Again I really enjoyed learning new things and working in different areas but – and you might start to see a pattern emerging here - I started to think I could do more.

So, I spoke to the Clinical Education Manager Ged Rogers who told me about the ASPIRE Programme. It’s an initiative which enables staff to develop and move through the nursing profession without needing to leave the charity.

At least 20 HCAs per year gain a nursing degree and they are supported with a salary initiative of more than £17,000 per annum.

The programme sounded ideal so I applied. The funny thing is, I never wanted to be a Nurse, and even at the time of application I was still unsure. But, I carried on and got accepted.

 The ASPIRE Programme turned out to be the best thing I ever did.

I was really apprehensive about starting university in the beginning as I had been out of education for a while and I had never really been all that academic anyway.

At the beginning it was tough. The work load was intense and the expectations were high. But, after a while the hard work paid off and I started to receive decent grades and positive feedback.

I completed the degree and then I returned to St Andrew’s as a Staff Nurse on Bayley in 2018. Even then I was unsure whether I wanted to be a Nurse, but fast forward four years and I am now Nurse Manager. This is such an amazing achievement for me and I’m very proud of myself.

I’m not exactly sure what my next career move will be but I do know that working for almost a decade at St Andrew’s has helped me reach a point in my career I never thought would be possible.

Not bad for a former mechanic, turned Nurse who started as an HCA, with absolutely no experience in health care.

I am so grateful to the charity’s ASPIRE Programme, as well as all the support and encouragement I’ve received from the people around me."

To apply, click here or email ELSwain@standrew.co.uk for more information.