Leanne Thornton, who started having psychotic episodes at the age of 13, worked in retail but was unavailable to find a position that she enjoyed.
But everything changes for the 29-year-old when she started working as a Healthcare Assistant at St Andrew’s Healthcare in 2017.
She said: “From the very first day, I knew I had found the sector for me. Prior to St Andrew’s I had been unable to find a job that felt meaningful to me. But, I instantly connected with the patients and the staff here, which is why I’m still here and am fully committed to my work here.”
Leanne, who was made a Senior Healthcare Assistant last year, is hoping to continue to progress her career in January when she joins the St Andrew’s innovative ASPIRE programme which supports staff while they study for a degree in mental health nursing.
Aspire enables healthcare assistants to combine their learning and experience to jump straight into the second year of the University of Northampton’s Mental Health Nursing degree. This means they can continue to earn while studying, completing their nursing degree in two years.
Leanne said: “I became very unwell throughout my teenage years and I started self-harming and I experienced some pretty extreme mood swings. Eventually I got the right treatment and support and started to get better.
“But my experience with my healthcare team inspired me, their diligence, compassion and caring approach shone through and it made me realise that I wanted to become a mental health nurse so that I can do the same for someone else experiencing problems.”
Sadly, Leanne’s health problems had impacted her school attendance which meant she did not have the qualifications required to embark upon her career as a mental health nurse.
She added: “I had set my heart on working in mental health and helping others. I really wanted to be a nurse, but my academic track record was poor because I had been so unwell during my GCSEs. But when I saw the job come up at St Andrew’s I knew it was the role for me.
“My partner already worked there and had told me what a great place it was to work as the people were so welcoming and that the career progression was excellent. I was hopeful that if I worked hard, I might be able to achieve my dream and train as a nurse.”
Five years later and Leanne has managed it and she thinks her own experiences with mental health has made her better at her job.
She said: “I can empathise and understand a patient’s perspective, as I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be in hospital and have your liberty taken away, which is traumatic. There is still a lot of stigma around mental illness, and even people I’ve worked with can sometimes find it hard to understand.
“I work in a non-judgemental way and I’m very mindful of not disclosing too much, but if for instance a patient that is self-harming sees my scars, they will recognise them. It can help break down barriers in a positive way and encourage patients to open up. My experience of mental illness has taught me a lot. I recognise behaviours in people that someone else might not spot. For patients going through a frightening time and struggling to cope, this can be a real relief.
“For me, the highlight of my job is my patient’s make progress in their recovery. When they get better, watching them be discharged is honestly the best feeling in the world. I’m always so proud of them and the team I work in for the care and support we have given them. I cannot wait to complete my mental health nurse training so I can continue working closely with the patients and helping to make a difference to their lives.”
Leanne starts her BSc in mental health nursing next year when she join the nursing Bank at St Andrew’s Healthcare. This means she can fit shifts around her studies. Although she has the option to reduce her shifts if she believes it is impacting her studying or wellbeing.
Emma Swain, ASPIRE’s Programme Lead at St Andrew’s Healthcare, said: “The ASPIRE programme has been extremely beneficial for students and St Andrew’s as those who graduate are guaranteed to walk back into a job -although technically, they never actually left the charity.
“ASPIRE is incredibly competitive programme as we’re looking for people who we know will commit. It takes a certain type of person to study in adulthood so we’re looking for someone who has gone above and beyond in their Healthcare Assistant role as this gives us a pretty good indication that they will make a decent and hardworking student.
“There are no nursing bursaries anymore so this programme is a great option for people that can’t afford to fund themselves. Also, it gives people like Leanne a second chance. There are many people out there, for whatever reason, who did not achieve the qualifications to go into nursing and rather than close that book, we’re encouraging our shining stars to start a whole new chapter with us and reach their full potential.”
St Andrew’s ASPIRE programme helps at least 20 Healthcare Assistants a year to gain a nursing degree. It is supported by a salary initiative of more than £17,000 per annum. It is open to those who have achieved either a Level 4 Certificate in mental health, or have a first degree in a health related subject. For more information, click here.