keeping promises – What’s red and white and sits in a corner?

A few weeks ago I was asked to write a blog post on reflections of being a student nurse, a few moments ago my daughter asked me when I was doing my next blog, so that was the prompt I needed to keep my promise.

In early 1991, aged 19, I found myself going from job to job and finally working behind a bar in the local pub, now anyone knows the local barmaid is agony aunt, excuse maker, peacekeeper as well as server of drinks. I also realised that I loved talking to and interacting with people so like a bolt out of the blue I thought I know I’ll be a nurse, my gran will be proud of me!

So I can remember the entrance criteria was O levels or GCSE’s and I applied to “Bolton and Salford College of Nursing”. The interviews were held over a day at peel house, a tower block in Eccles, we had group exercises and then a 1 to 1 interview. Following that we had to make our way over to Hope hospital (Salford Royal) for medicals.

I had applied for mental health and general nursing, I was given the choice and in October 1991 I commenced on the mental health branch. Remember at this time Salford Royal was still a hospital and not flats (and you had to wear a hat) and Bolton still had 2 hospitals, the Royal and the General. 

I can honestly say I did not know what I was letting myself into…………

On the first day just over 100 students sat in a room and we were all welcomed and told that we were the “managers of the future”, unbeknown to me we were the third group of project 2000 students a new way of nurse training. I remember going home and thinking what on earth is project 2000?

So for the first 18 months we all “learnt” together with a very generic training, each term had a theme, starting with well being, then going through different stages of ill health and age ranges as the training went on. We also spent a large chunk of our training in the community, with health visitors, district nurses and school nurses. When I first hit the wards, I think term 2, I began to understood the difference between P2K and “traditional” training.

On my first ward placement I (and most of my colleagues) had a mixed welcome, from excellent and welcoming to hostility, the reason for the hostility? After our 3 years training we would qualify with a diploma, there was still “traditional” 3rd year students on the wards and the staff were all “traditionally” trained. We were also “supernumery” and we were encouraged to challenge and ask questions, remember at this time 3rd year students could be in charge on nights and included in the ward numbers.

In fairness I can completely understand, now, why staff reacted to us in that way, we appeared in droves, asking questions and remember we had been told we were the future of nursing (and some really believed that and told everyone mmmmm).

Our uniform was white, with red belt and epilettes, we stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb, hence “what’s red and white and stands in the corner?” …… “A project 2000 student”.

More than 20 years on, I am still told “well that project 2000 was the downfall” until I politely remind that I was one of the first P2K students, the usual answer is yes well your more like a traditional one!

Academically we were expected to study and spent 1 day a week at Salford University, the rest of the classroom work was spent at Peel House, we had been split into 2 halves and this made us either “am or pm”, so when in college we actually only went for half a day the rest of the day was for personal study / course work etc. 

I was the morning group and for the first year of my nurse training this suited me very well as I could work night shifts in a nursing home to supplement my income…… Sorry if I ever fell asleep in your lecture, it wasn’t that I was bored! We got paid a bursary of £360 per month with £10 a week for travelling expenses, so the agency work was a bit of a necessity on a positive note I remember we were exempt from “poll tax”!

During my first term I met someone who became my first ever role model and mentor, probably still to this day one of the most professional and intellectual nurses I’ve ever met, you know who you are and if you ever need to understand nephrotic syndrome or pharmacology she is your women!

I look back now in amazement to think I was nearly 20 years old and exposed to a range of experiences that would make you laugh, cry or just be lost for words. It worries me now that we expect relatively inexperienced nurses to deal with, death, terminal illness, abuse and patients friends and families at there most vulnerable. I don’t think any class room teaching will ever fully prepare you for that but high quality mentorship and hands on care in partnership with the theory is a must.

During the first 18 months I had my first exposure to an acute mental health ward and realised that I could not see myself working primarily in mental health. I also had, possible the best experience of my student days, a placement on the acute paediatric ward at Bolton General, I loved it and decided that I wanted to be a children’s nurse. Sounds easy but we had already made our minds up and been “branched” when we started, so I had to apply to change, luckily (for me) someone had dropped out and a place was free, so I found myself in the summer of 1993 on the child branch.

I’m going to blog about the second half of my training next time, but if anyone wants to ask any questions, feel free to comment and I will try and cover next time.



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Executive Director at warrington and Halton NHS FT. Proud and passionate nurse and NHS leader

3 thoughts on “keeping promises – What’s red and white and sits in a corner?”

  1. Thanks Karen,
    This has really taken me back. I was at Salford in the 2nd Project 2000 cohort – the friendly banter changed to “what’s red and white and sits in the corner reading? …. a project 2000 student.
    I think Karen, maybe not part 2 but part 3 could be about your experiences as a newly qualified nurse? and something and establishing yourself and the difficulties of enculturation??

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