The Student Nursing Times Awards celebrates the very best in student nurses, paying tribute to students who have demonstrated the academic achievement, clinical prowess and personal qualities that will make them brilliant nurses. So we were delighted when The School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work’s Laura Fitzgerald was named the Nursing Times’ Student Nurse of the Year for Mental Health. Join us as Laura takes us through her award journey…

I’m still trying to get my head around everything that has happened in the last month. I started my first ever nursing job (Band 5 RMN at HMP Birmingham – the dream job) and as if that wasn’t enough, last week I won the Student Nursing Times‘ Student Nurse of the Year award in the Mental Health category. Over the last three years, I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve thought to myself ‘how has this all happened?!’ When I took the plunge and applied to train as nurse, never in my wildest dreams would I have believed I’d be leaving university in this position.

It feels like ages ago I was filling in the application form for the award and harassing my poor mentors for supporting statements.

A lot has changed since then. At the time, I was finishing my management placement, absolutely terrified of qualifying, full of anxiety and self-doubt. Now, three very broke months (and many, many, bank HCA shifts) later, I’m a qualified nurse – slightly less terrified, but enjoying the challenge of spending every shift trying my hardest to deliver the quality of care I think our prisoners deserve. In fact, settling into my new job proved such a successful distraction that I barely had chance to think about the awards or get too nervous.

The ceremony itself went by in a blur.  There was an absolutely rammed drinks reception, then a speech by the inspiring Professor Donna Mead OBE, all followed by a speedy three course lunch. It was great to have such a strong Birmingham City University showing there, including Rebecca Kidman and Rachel Herlihy – two incredible and genuinely lovely BCU students who were also shortlisted for awards. I remember getting more and more tense as my category approached. When the judge read out why they had chosen the winner of my category, I remember thinking ‘hang on, I said stuff like that in my interview…’  and then before I knew it my name was announced and it was all hugs, a long walk to the stage and awkwardly having my photo taken. True fact – when I got home that night I realised I was only wearing one earring and wondered whether my earring had fallen out before or after winning the award. A quick glance at the official photo confirmed it was in fact before! Ah well…

I can’t praise the mental health lecturers at Birmingham City University enough – without their support and encouragement there is no way I would have gone for, let alone won, such a prestigious award.

As soon as I walked off the stage, I was directed upstairs to be interviewed on camera. I don’t think it was my finest hour, but I do remember making sure to give a shout out to BCU, BSMHFT and my amazing cohort. After my award was announced, I was finally able to relax and enjoy the ceremony. I decided against staying for a drink after hearing about the price of drinks (£8 for two orange juices!), plus I was on a long shift the next day. So I got the train home, dragged myself to the polling station to vote, then had a celebratory takeaway. The next day I was back down to earth with a bump when my alarm went off at 5:15am for work. I didn’t feel any different, nor did I expect to. The award is a wonderful confidence boost and a great advertisement for the awesome Mental Health Nursing degree at BCU, but I’m nursing exactly the same as I was before I had this lovely title and trophy.

If you are interested in a career in nursing, then check out our range of nursing courses available here at Birmingham City University including Mental Health Nursing. Read more about Laura’s Student Nursing Times Awards win here.

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