How to revive an earlier career


Katrina, 49, is married and has five children, two of whom live at home. One of her sons has autism and attention deficit disorder. As her sons got older Katrina found she had more time for herself and knew she wanted to do something but wasn’t sure what. She took up an Open University access course, which she passed. This gave her the confidence to take a Return to Nursing Practice course at university, something she’d been thinking about for ten years but didn’t think she’d ever manage to do. Two years on, she is working as a support worker in her local mental health unit. Once her nursing registration comes through she plans to apply for a job as a staff nurse.

Listen to Katrina talking about her return to nursing.

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Well, when I first heard about The Open University course I was just approaching, well I was 48, so I knew my 50th birthday was coming up. My son Ruaridh who’s autistic and has quite a lot of needs was 18 and was beginning to become a little bit less dependent on me. And I just felt that I had a little time on my hands. I was looking around for something to do or somewhere to go. I didn’t really have any ideas at all and at a meeting at the carers centre one evening they told us about Open University courses that they were running and they were free to carers. And just on impulse, I just put my name down that day. I didn’t even think about it. And that was me signed up and that was it. The rest is history.
It’s two years on from that day and it’s a different, I’m living a different life. It’s almost unbelievable. I look back to two years ago and I can’t believe I am where I am today. I never thought I’d see this day again.
Well I did The Open University course and passed. That gave me the courage to apply to do a return to practice course for nursing. Something that I had talked about for the last ten years but had never actually done anything about but having done the Open University course, it just gave me the courage to apply for that. I did that last year and I have passed and as I said earlier I’m now in the position that very shortly when my registration comes through I will be able to work as a staff nurse again. I just never thought that day would ever come.
Em in some ways I’m so proud I could cry actually! I just, one of the, when I, when my son was 18 and I was looking into going back to work for the first time, one of the jobs that I took was I worked as a cleaner in a local beauty salon. No reflection on that job at all because I’m a neat and tidy person and I enjoy cleaning, but I took that job because I honestly thought I wasn’t capable of doing anything else and I thought that was me. And now two years later I’m going to be working as a staff nurse again. And I’m just so proud of myself I could burst!
Yes I had really enjoyed that career before, but I felt that I was so used to being on demand, so used to looking after everyone else, that in my head I thought I can’t work shifts. I can’t start work at half past seven. I can’t work till half past nine at night, but actually they weren’t for me, they were not real barriers anymore. They were barriers at one point, but now, there’s no reason why I can’t do these things, and I’ve just had to learn that and see that for myself.
I wasn’t really totally immersed in my caring. I’m not that nice! [Laughs]. But, em, that was my job. So I didn’t really feel that, I missed my job as a nurse - I always liked that, but I felt quite fulfilled doing my caring role and I was really busy. I didn’t really have time to spend a lot of time thinking about myself. I didn’t really have time to spend a lot of time speculating on where I could be or what I could be doing. I just got up every morning and hoped to make it through the day. That was my main goal. Get to bedtime without crying – that was a good day! [Laughs].
I read all the time and I look back and I can’t believe that I went almost five years without reading , but I did! I was so tired, it’s you can’t understand it unless you’ve been in that position, but you sort of drift through life on autopilot and you’re tired all the time. You feel ill all the time. You get the cold and it takes you three weeks to get over it because you actually can’t sit down and have a lemsip at any point. You just have to keep going. And when bedtime comes, you’re usually so tired that, and I don’t know, concentration was maybe a problem for me. I just stopped reading. But now I can read again now and I’m happy.
Em well I’m kind of busy again because I’ve taken, this job that I’ve taken on is full time, so I’m working full time at the moment and my son still requires caring for at home, and I do have other things that I do. I am a busy person. I think that on reflection, I think that full time is too much. But I have to do it, I’m doing it right now but I wouldn’t like to work full time for a great length of time. Because you do need time to rest and relax and just be yourself. I’m not getting much of that time at the moment.
I think that’s very important, but very difficult because society puts such a pressure on you to achieve and to have a career, that it’s very difficult sometimes to just recognise that perhaps you are too busy to do that. So it’s difficult question to answer, but for me, I just, when I was looking after my son, when he was young and when he was at home and I had all the other kids to look after as well, I just don’t think I was that deep. I just didn’t have time to think about much else so that’s what I did. And then as things got easier as the children got older, I started to have a bit more time and it was just a sort of happy coincidence that all things came together at the right time for me. I happened to come to the carers meeting when I had been happening to think about doing something else. So I think your question is appropriate and its right, it is important to recognise these things. I don’t know how you do that though. [Laughs].
I think that my experiences looking after my son have changed me into a different person to the person that I was before. I think that having children changes you – changes everybody, but having a child that has a lot, a high dependency changes you a lot. So the things that, I’m a much more tolerant person than I used to be. I have much more understanding, er patience, staying calm, I’m the queen of not rising to – whatever. [Laughs] I’ve found that my experiences having to deal with social work department have taught me a lot, [Laughs], about em, in my work I have learned to realise that things don’t happen when you want them to happen. And there’s no point in phoning people constantly and complaining about this, that and the next thing, because people work in their own time and you just have to learn to be patient. And you can, you can find a nice way of maybe keeping your, keeping your needs alive in someone else’s mind, but it gets you nowhere to get angry and frustrated and upset about the way that government departments treat you. That gets you nowhere. [Laughs]
I think that you learn to let things go, and you have to learn which battles are worth fighting and you have to fight them with all your might, but you have to let a lot of things just go. Because you’re not going to get anywhere with them.
I would say that for myself, probably in the last five or six years I tried a couple of things, and the timing wasn’t right and so they didn’t work. But the timing obviously was right when I tried this because it did work and sometimes I think you have to push the door open and just see where it goes. And if it doesn’t work for you and it’s not the right time, don’t stress about it. You can try again. You don’t have to get it all right the first time. And as far as the reflection course goes with The Open University, I really think what is there to lose? Give it a go. If you don’t like it, if it doesn’t work for you, oh well, fair enough. But you never know, this might be your time.
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These are the steps Katrina took to get back to her nursing career.

  1. While caring for her son during his childhood it just wasn’t possible to study or think about returning to work full time.
  2. She did manage a few different jobs while caring – fostering other children and working as a childminder.
  3. As her son grew up it was possible for her to think about returning to work, but she didn’t know where to start. There didn’t seem to be too many jobs around either.
  4. Her local Carers Centre told her she could study for free with The Open University because she was a carer, so she decided to take the plunge.
  5. Katrina started studying alone with a group of other carers as part of a collaborative initiative between the centre and The Open University.
  6. Succeeding with this course then gave her the confidence and impetus to plan her next steps and think about returning to work.
  7. With the support of the carers centre Katrina looked into how she could return to nursing, having the confidence to do a Return to Nursing Practice course.
  8. She has since started working in a mental health unit and is looking forward to becoming a staff nurse again soon.

Katrina completed Y177 Understanding Society (a former OU access module that has been replaced by the Y032 People, Work and Society [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] access course) and a reflection course. These gave her the confidence to do a Return to Nursing Practice course and she’s now planning to return to work as a staff nurse.

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