2020 is the ‘Year of the Nurse’ and never has it been more apparent how crucial healthcare professionals are to all of us. If you’re an army spouse facing frequent moves and long periods apart from your soldier, it can be tricky to continue your career path in nursing, but many of you do just that. AFF’s health & additional needs specialist, Karen Ross, herself a former nurse and midwife, spoke to some of you about your experiences…

Name: Ami White

Job: General nurse

Army family since: 2010

How did you complete your training? I started in 2013 at the age of 27 and as a mother of two children under two! I completed the access to higher education course first, which was twice-a-week for a year in the evenings. Once I had gained my credits I applied to the University of Southampton. Fortunately, we were posted to the same area, which meant that I could complete my degree in 2017. If we hadn’t been I may have had to take a gap year or not finish at all.

How does your role fit with army life?

The biggest challenge is finding the correct career path to fit with my children’s school and my husband’s hours – the main concern is him being away. Working shifts is more difficult living away from family, but as luck would have it, I now live opposite my brother, his wife and their daughters. They’ve helped us so much. I haven’t lived this close to him since he joined up nearly 20 years ago.

Have you moved jobs on posting?

I’ve just moved and I do have to switch roles. However, I don’t see this as much of a negative as I will gain different nursing experience.

How supportive is your employer?

Most are understanding, the only negative is they know you’re in a forces family and may have to leave at any point. My previous employer was understanding and flexible. I worked as a community nurse in the Stafford area with a very supportive team.

Would you recommend a career in nursing to others?

Yes, absolutely. I don’t see nursing as a job, to me it’s something inside you as a caring person. I meet so many people and become part of their lives by caring for them. That’s a big privilege in their time of need.

Name: Abigail Wilkinson

Job: Mental health nurse

Army family since: 2013

How did you complete your training?

I completed my training in 2013 prior to my husband joining the army. I’m currently teaching mental health awareness classes aimed at the military and their families, whilst completing my Masters in medical education.

How does your role fit with army life?

I‘ve always worked a variety of long shifts and been on call. When it was only my husband and I, we managed to fit in quality time, however, after having our daughter, it’s not as simple due to childcare. It’s especially difficult when he’s deployed or on exercise.

Have you moved jobs on posting?

Every single time. In some cases, it has been relatively easy with minimal stress and I’ve been able to transfer. I look at available positions in the new area prior to our move and arrange phone interviews. I’m lucky that due to the nature of my work and varied experience I’ve been able to find a suitable position on each posting.

How supportive is your employer?

Those with military connections are often more supportive. Some are sceptical to offer employment knowing that I may be relocated at short notice, however, my role is fairly flexible and set shifts and hours can be agreed if required.

Would you recommend a career in nursing to others?

Learning to balance life between university commitments, placements and family time is no easy feat, but for me the positives far outweigh the negatives. There are so many areas of speciality, ample possibilities for progression and, once qualified, it opens up a new world of career opportunities, many of which are flexible. Not to mention the feeling of pride; the reward is immense knowing you have done something amazing for someone.

Name: Lorraine Dooley

Job: Health visitor

Army family since: 1996

How did you complete your training?

I qualified before joining the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps for four years and then getting married. I think it would have been difficult to have trained after we were married.

How does your role fit with army life?

When my husband was around, I worked nights and weekends, so we didn’t have to rely on childcare – it’s difficult with the long unsocial hours. Even when he was home, we spent a lot of time apart which wasn’t ideal. I had the added challenge of a child with special educational needs, which made standard childcare more problematic. I’m now a health visitor and the hours work well for my family.

What happens when your soldier is away from home?

It has been tricky. Thankfully I had supportive parents that always came to stay to look after the children. When the children were small, I mainly worked as a bank nurse so I could do extra shifts when my parents were able to help.

Have you moved jobs on posting?

I’ve had a series of nursing jobs rather than a career. My CV is long – I’ve had a number of sister or staff nurse roles. Paediatric nursing is often sought after, so I’ve never had a problem getting a job.

How supportive is your employer?

Employers know you’ll only be with them for a limited time, so training courses are often difficult to access as they know they won’t benefit from it. When I took my emergency nurse practitioner course, I managed to complete it and left quickly afterwards so a different hospital benefitted from a qualification paid for by another Trust.

Would you recommend a career in nursing to others?

As a career, nursing has been ideal. I’ve always worked in every posting all over the world. Whilst abroad I worked in medical centres. My dual qualifications in adult and paediatric nursing and A&E made this possible – it may not have been so easy if I’d had different specialities.

INTERESTED IN NURSING?

If you’d like to find out more about training and nursing careers, the Royal College of Nursing has some useful advice and information at rcn.org.uk

Returning to nursing?

NHS Health Education England is offering free ‘return to nursing’ courses around 40 sites across the country. You’ll receive £500 towards books, travel and childcare. You will also be able to transfer the course if you’re posted during it. More at healthcareers.nhs.uk

Find a job in healthcare Look out for nursing and other care roles, as well as training details, at forcesfamiliesjobs.co.uk

Step into Health Members of the armed forces community can access NHS employment and other career development opportunities at Step into Health. The programme recognises your transferable skills and cultural values and how these are compatible with working in the NHS. Go to nhsemployers.org/sstepintohealth

Working in the NHS

If you’re a military spouse already working in the NHS, there’s specific support available to you. Trusts have armed forces champions and you can also sign up to a regular email bulletin. Search armed forces at nhsemployers.org

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