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Graham Burrell - inspired by learning disability nursing

Graham Burrell - inspired by learning disability nursing

I met Graham at an event for learning disabilities. His enthusiasm is an inspiration. He spent 20 years in the manufacturing industry before a major career move, taking himself back into education to train as a learning disabilities nurse. Graham's is a fascinating story and one that will make many people stop and consider changing tack for a job that may offer more meaning. Words by Matt Farrah

You’re a mature student. What were you doing before you decided that learning disabilities was the direction you wanted to go in?

I was a manufacturing manager, and had spent 24 years working for the same company, the only job that I have ever had in my adult life. I was responsible for many aspects of a chemical recycling process, including management of staff, budgets, logistics and compliance, working to strict guidelines set by the Environment Agency and the Health & Safety Executive. Unfortunately, I was made redundant in July 2009, and decided it was time to re-evaluate my life, which led me to LD Nursing.

So how does this compare to your ‘previous life’?

Throughout my career, I have always given 100%, and I did enjoy my role as a manufacturing manager. Being made redundant, and having time to reflect upon and re-evaluate my life, and what was important to me, I found that there were many things far more important than a balanced spreadsheet, and the last week’s performance figures from a recycling plant.

LD Nursing, and my journey towards qualification has shown me some of the “real life” challenges that people face on a day by day basis, and being able to help and support individuals within my community (some facing challenges that I cannot begin to imagine) gives me inspiration and drives me onwards. I feel that I have a purpose in what I am doing, and can have a positive impact and make a difference to people’s lives, and am not just working to keep a board of directors happy, some of whom were not particularly in touch with “real life”.

You’re married, with children and responsibilities. Was it a difficult choice deciding to take on everything that becoming a nurse entails

The decision was certainly a daunting one. From a personal perspective, it was not difficult for me, as I knew it was what I wanted to do. I was starting a journey of discovery, far removed from my comfort zone, in an environment that was totally alien. But I knew it would have a significant impact on family life.

 Taking into consideration my wife and children’s feelings, and how going back into full-time education would affect them, was the difficult part of the decision-making process.

Have your family (wife and children) all been supportive? What did your children think of your decision at first - were they surprised?

My wife has been a fantastic support, and was the one who finally convinced me that the journey I wanted to make was possible. She had and has total faith in my ability to become a Learning disabilities nurse jobs, and has provided support from the start.

My children, (all late teenagers) – thought it was “cool” that their Dad was going back to school, and have provided me with pens, pencils and all things stationary at birthdays and Christmas time. My eldest daughter is a 1st Year OT student at Salford University, it has been great being able give and receive support from her.

How do you earn money while studying?

Through University placements, working with local providers of community care for the learning disabled, I have, after completing two of these placements, picked up “bank work” which fits in and around my studies and commitments to my University. I have also signed up at the local acute hospital as a “bank” Clinical Support Worker, which has provided extra earning potential, and given me am insight into Adult Nursing.

So, that’s a lot of working hours, a lot of input to become a qualified nurse?

It requires commitment, and the schedule can be a little hectic at times. My wife sometimes has to remind me about balancing work and study, as I feel I have a responsibility to contribute financially to the household budget. Time management is vitally important if you are to keep on top of assignment deadlines, but all the hard work will have been worthwhile when I reach qualification.

How has your view of life changed since you started working with people with learning difficulties?

I remember my first day at University, and being introduced to the Head of School who described the journey I was about to embark on, and explained that those who made it to the journey's end would be changed for life. At the time, I could not really comprehend what she meant. However, now, I am certain I'm not the same person I was 20 months ago. I have an open and positive mind (being brow beaten by a board of directors for 20 years has the effect of bringing down shutters in the mind), I don’t rush to judge people. And I don’t see disability anymore – just possibilities. I'm full of positive energy and have the total belief that I can make a difference to someone’s day, every day.

What is it that you enjoy and find most rewarding about your days spent supporting people with learning disabilities?

People with a Learning Disability are people just like me and you, trying to get by in a demanding social environment, and enjoy some quality in their lives. I have the ability to improve the quality of their lives, by working with fellow professionals in providing the support they need. Knowing that I have had a positive impact and made a difference to a fellow human beings life brings me great pleasure and is infinitely more rewarding than balancing a spreadsheet.

Do you think the UK healthcare industry does enough to welcome new people to learning disability nursing?

There is clear evidence that the LD Nursing population is aging, and decreasing. The LD population itself is increasing and is accessing mainstream healthcare facilities’ as a result of living within their respective communities. In a world where budgets are the main drivers for all healthcare and community settings, my belief is that the “bean counters” do not understand the value that an LD Nurse can bring to an organisation. The job of a learning disability nurse is diverse, and spans many disciplines, and as a consequence is immeasurable. I've seen learning disabled adults who have accessed mainstream services, and are met by nursing professionals who are not properly trained to facilitate their journey. This is doing a disservice to the learning disabled population. So, in answer to your question, no I do not think the healthcare industry does do enough to welcome new nurses to train in this sector.

Your positive view of nursing and, well, life is an inspiration. What would you say to anyone considering whether to become a nurse, and, specifically, work in the field of learning disabilities?

The journey will be challenging, and at times frustrating. You will experience financial hardship, spend waking nights trying to understand a particular aspect of your next assignment – and wonder how the car tax will get paid. You will see things and hear things that upset and sadden you. You will touch and be a part of people’s lives when they are at their most vulnerable and desperate. You will see life for what it truly is – a very precious and fragile thing, to be cherished and nurtured wherever possible. The rewards – all of these things will make you stronger. Knowing that you have made a difference to someone’s life – priceless!!

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