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Talented new nurses win special award

17th July 2018

Six newly-qualified Northumbria nurses have been honoured for their dedication.

The nurses have all received the prestigious Heath Award in recognition of the commitment they’ve shown to their nursing studies; both academically and within their work placements.

The Heath Award, which was established in 1892 by George Yeoman Heath, former President of the Royal College of Medicine, is presented each year to the best nurses and midwives graduating from Northumbria’s nursing and midwifery programmes.

Those studying nursing and midwifery degrees spend half of their time in University, and the other half on placement in hospitals and community settings across the region, where they put their new-found skills into practice.

This year’s winners, who all achieved First Class Honours in their nursing degree programmes, were chosen after being nominated by our academics and clinical staff with whom they worked whilst on placement.

The 2018 Heath Awards winners are: Cardiology nurse Emma Alderson from Washington, Tyne and Wear who works at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI); Sophie Bell from Sunderland who’s a nurse in Urology at the Sunderland Royal Hospital; former solicitor Peter Busby from Durham, who’s now a paediatric intensive care nurse at the Great North Children’s Hospital, Newcastle; Rachel Culyer from Killingworth, Newcastle who works as a nurse in the RVI’s Critical Care Unit; neonatal nurse Abbie Elden, originally from Doncaster, who works in the Special Care Baby Unit at the RVI; and Sherilee Gray who lives in Blyth and is a community learning disabilities nurse in Newcastle.

Peter Busby, 33, gave up his career in law to train to be a children’s nurse. He qualified in March of this year and now works in paediatric intensive care at the Great North Children’s Hospital, part of Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI). He says he ‘couldn’t be happier’ with his decision to swap the law courts for the hospital wards. He graduated with First Class Honours in Children’s Nursing on the same day as receiving his Heath Award.

He said: “Last time I graduated from Northumbria University, it was in 2007 and with a Law degree. Now I’m graduating as a nurse and I couldn’t be more proud.

“I love my job, I feel like I’m really making a difference, especially working in intensive care where the children are sometimes there for long spells and face difficult challenges. The work is demanding but I get a great sense of satisfaction and really embrace it.

“It makes it extra special that I’ve been selected for a Heath Award and I’m truly humbled. I worked hard during my studies but I didn’t expect this. It’s really nice to be noticed and my wife is really proud. We weren’t sure how things might turn out when I decided to make the leap to become a nurse, but it’s worked out brilliantly and I couldn’t be happier, I wish I’d done it years ago.”

Peter’s change of direction was inspired by his wife, who is also a children’s nurse; he saw how much she loved her job and felt it was something he’d really enjoy, too.

He adds: “The children’s nursing programme at Northumbria is fantastic. You’re challenged but also well-supported. The lecturers are very passionate and you can see that in the way they come across. They inspired and encouraged us to be our best and I enjoyed the academic side just as much as the placements.”

Cardiology nurse Emma Alderson, 25, graduated from Northumbria in 2017 and says she was ‘amazed’ to learn about her Heath Award.

She said: “I’ve always wanted to be a nurse, for as long as I can remember. I started with an apprenticeship in healthcare studies, then an access course, then on to a nursing degree at Northumbria University.

“Studying was really hard work but absolutely worth it. My placements were brilliant and I spent a lot of time at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead, including in cardiology, which made me want to work in this field when I graduated.

“I absolutely love being a nurse, the best part is the patients - when I’m on the ward it’s like being part of a special little family. It’s amazing to receive a Heath Award, I feel really honoured and proud.”

Nurse Rachel Culyer went straight into a job in the Critical Care Unit at Newcastle’s RVI after completing her degree in 2017.

The 28-year-old was inspired to train as a nurse whist working for NHS Direct and the 111 service. She completed a pre-nursing year with Northumbria University, working as a healthcare assistant at Sunderland Royal Hospital, before starting her nursing degree at Northumbria. Rachel was one of the first students in the country to graduate from the pre-nursing training programme which was established in 2013 as part of a national pilot scheme by Health Education England. The aim of the programme is to provide aspiring nurses with experience in caring by working as a paid healthcare assistant for up to a year before starting a degree, to see if nursing is the right career choice for them.

She says: “The pre-nursing scheme was great way of finding out if nursing suited me. I then went straight onto the degree programme at Northumbria and loved every part of it, especially the variety of placements, which really helped me to build a broad range of skills. I was lucky enough to get a placement in Accident and Emergency in my third year and really enjoyed the fast paced environment, so knew critical care was where I wanted to be when I graduated.”

During her degree, Rachel was also the class rep for her tutor group and particularly enjoyed supporting her fellow students, helping to resolve any issues that cropped up.

She adds: “I loved my studies and I love my job. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I was amazed to be nominated for a Heath Award and didn’t expect it at all. It’s great to be appreciated and I’m unashamedly proud.”

Abbie Elden qualified this year and graduated on the same day as she received her Heath Award. The 23-year-old works in the Special Care Baby Unit at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, helping to care for babies who are born prematurely or become very unwell.

She said: “I undertook a work placement at the Special Care Baby Unit and that made me want to work in this area once I’d qualified. It’s a very special place to work and it’s a privilege to be part of the babies’, and their families’, journeys while they’re with us. I work in an amazing team and I love my job. I can’t believe I’ve won this award, all of the students I trained with were brilliant so it’s an honour to be singled out.”

Learning disabilities nurse Sherilee Gray graduated from Northumbria in 2017. The 41-year-old, who moved from Norfolk to Blyth in order to do her degree, works with the Community Learning Disabilities Team at Benton House, Newcastle. The team is part of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust. Sherilee says she was inspired to become a nurse by her brother, who has Asperger syndrome; although his condition isn’t categorised as a learning disability, it made her want to discover how those living with learning disabilities can be supported.

She said: “Everyone on my course was brilliant so it was a real shock and honour to be singled out for the award, but I’m so proud to receive it.

“I’ve always wanted to work in nursing and started an access course when my children were young but didn’t complete it. I applied to Northumbria whilst still living in Norfolk, and we moved up here so I could study, plus my partner is from the area. His mum works in mental health in Newcastle, and she recommended Northumbria based on her positive experiences throughout her career.

“Northumbria has an excellent reputation for being one of the best universities for nursing and I enjoyed every moment. I did my third year placement with the community learning disabilities team at Benton House and went straight into this job as soon as I completed my studies. I absolutely love being a nurse, every day is a new challenge and brings a huge amount of satisfaction.”

Wearside nurse Sophie Bell, 23, works on the urology ward at Sunderland Royal Hospital, where she also spent time on placement during her nursing degree. Like Rachel Culyer, she was also one of the first in the country to complete a pre-nursing year with Northumbria University and Sunderland Royal Hospital before starting her degree studies, and says it gave her the confidence to become a fully-qualified nurse.

She said: “I have always been interested in working in healthcare but wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do at first, which is why I did the pre-nursing course. I love helping people, so my best moments are when patients tell me how much of a difference I’ve made to their treatment or recovery.

“The job is sometimes challenging, especially in the middle of winter pressures, but there’s always great support.  I find nursing so rewarding and love going into work every day knowing that I’ll be doing something different and helping different people.”

She added: “When I found out I’d won this award I was shocked because I didn’t think I’d done anything out of the ordinary during my training. I just tried to help as many people as I could, along the way.”

Professor Alison Machin, Head of Nursing, Midwifery and Health at Northumbria University, said: “The standard of nominations for the awards has, yet again, been exceptionally high. Northumbria University is the principal provider of nurse education in the North East of England, and we are privileged to have such hard working, compassionate and high achieving students who develop into high quality, skilled professionals.  It is a real honour to teach and work with them, and it’s wonderful to be able to recognise their efforts in this way.”

The students were presented with their awards - a medal and certificate - at a special ceremony by Dame Jackie Daniel, the new Chief Executive of the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Dame Jackie Daniel said “I started my career in the NHS as a nurse and I know what a hugely challenging but incredibly rewarding profession it is, so it is a real pleasure for me to present these awards to such outstanding newly qualified nurses. It is particularly appropriate to present the awards on the 70th anniversary of the NHS. Nursing has changed massively in that time and I am sure that the award winners have bright futures ahead of them as the roles of nurses continue to grow and develop.”

Helen Lamont, Chair of the Heath Trust and former Nursing and Patient Services Director at the Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Nursing and midwifery are such critical roles, and the quality of care makes all the difference to the patient experience. These awards were bequeathed by a former surgeon at ‘The Infirmary’, now the Royal Victoria Infirmary, to celebrate excellence in the practice and theory of nursing and midwifery. It’s a privilege to be involved with the Heath Committee, and to see, first hand, the excellent new generation of nurses and midwives that are graduating from Northumbria University, in partnership with our local hospitals. These students are selected not only for their excellent academic and clinical performance, but also for the behaviours and qualities they have displayed throughout their education and training. These winners have set exceptional standards within their profession already, and are very worthy recipients of the Heath Award.”

For more information on nursing, midwifery and health courses at Northumbria University, visit


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