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Caroline Engelen-Gardner

Change career at any age or background with Northumbria University

Many people mistakenly think the Clearing system, used by universities to offer available places on unfilled courses starting each September and October, is only for students that failed to get their hoped-for grades. And while Clearing can provide a lifeline for those disappointed with their A Levels, it’s also a popular route for potential students of varied backgrounds – including mature students and those that have already had a career.

Nursing is one degree area that has seen a rise in popularity in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly among career changers looking to give back to society. And as a competitive course of study, one route to consider whether you’re 18 or 48, is Clearing.

First-year student nurse Caroline Engelen-Gardner is a mother of two that chose to study at Northumbria University after a 17-year banking career, as it offered a degree in mental health nursing, with an excellent reputation as one of the largest nurse education centres in the north of England.

Caroline explained: “I originally gained a BA (Hons) Marketing and Management after finishing my A-Levels and after this joined HSBC’s graduate management trainee programme in 2005.

“Over 17 years, I had a variety of leadership roles, becoming Senior Branch Manager in Sunderland The Bridges, Stockton, South Shields and Peterlee branches, followed by a six-month secondment into Global Risk.”

Before redundancy helped facilitate a career change, Caroline found her interest in mental health and care grow over many years.

She went on: “I had a very successful but stressful career in which I supported friends and colleagues with their mental health and had responsibility for many teams while also juggling home life, raising Finley, who is nine, and Ayla, who’s seven.

“This pace culminated in a period of burnout in 2019. I ended up taking six months off to rest, regain my strength and rediscover ways to prioritise myself and get well again. It was an awful and emotional period in which I started to realise my life had mainly been centred around achievement, with limited social interactions unless it was through work.”

Returning to work having gained some benefit from rest combined with some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions, little did Caroline know that in just a week, the UK would be put into lockdown following the outbreak of Covid-19.

She said: “Having the time off beforehand definitely enabled me to successfully navigate my return to work, and help me support my teams through the pandemic. But later that year, I was among more than 200 people put at risk of redundancy after HSBC decided to scale back leadership roles throughout the branch network.”

With a growing interest in, and understanding of mental health, Caroline decided to try something different.

She said: “I was always good at helping others, very proactive at fixing things for others and providing solutions, but in my earlier career I didn’t truly appreciate the need for self-care or put myself in the same bracket as I would others.

“My own lived experience combined with the likelihood of redundancy gave me pause to reflect, and I wanted to return to university to retrain. At 39 now, I aim to have at least another 25 years or so to make a difference in healthcare and I’m lucky to have the opportunity at Northumbria.”

Senior Lecturer in Northumbria’s Department of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, Louise Lingwood added: “Caroline is an inspirational student whose lived experience is a valuable asset to her learning and her understanding of the mental health landscape.

“Nursing attracts a wide range of people from a huge array of backgrounds, all of which contributes towards making the profession one of the most diverse in the UK. I’d encourage anyone thinking of making a change to consider it as their next career.”

Like Caroline, the impact of Covid-19 has sparked many people to reflect on their life and work, and there’s never been a greater need for people in our NHS and the healthcare professions, many of whom can benefit from the fact there’s no age limit to using the Clearing system to apply to study.

Northumbria University is ranked eighth in the UK for its research power in the allied health professions, including nursing, with its research environment given the highest possible 100 per cent 4* rating in the Research Excellence Framework 2021.

Visit northumbria.ac.uk to find out more about becoming a registered mental health nurse through research-led learning at Northumbria University, where you’ll also benefit from brand new training facilities.


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