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  • 23 May 2023
  • 9 min read

Nurse Associate Apprenticeship: Pros, Cons & How I Got Mine

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    • Mat Martin
    • Richard Gill
  • 1
  • 3459
“I'm really glad that I'm doing the Nurse Associate apprenticeship, and I think it's an absolutely incredible way to get a degree. It doesn't cost you anything, you get paid to do it, and you get a huge amount of practical learning from it.”

In this video, Nick discusses his recent Nurse Associate apprenticeship course, from structure of the program and application process, to balancing working and learning hours.

Hi there, my name's Nick and in this short video I'm going to tell you how I came to be doing an apprentice Nurse Associate course and how I'm getting on with it.

I work for a large NHS Trust in the South of England as a Band 3 Healthcare Assistant (HCA) and started approximately 15 months ago, with limited prior medical or clinical experience.

Developing Your Career

In my interview for the HCA role, and from when I first started, I was very clear to my line manager that I wanted to develop and that I thought I would look to do a nursing qualification before too long. My line manager was very supportive of this but made it clear that practically it was very much down to me to find out about the apprenticeship and to make it happen.

If I had been waiting for other people to do it for me, I'd still be waiting. I used the Trust intranet to find out more about the apprenticeship options. I had looked at doing a full-time degree and decided I couldn't afford that, so apprenticeships seemed to be the way forward.

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Why Choose A Nurse Associate Apprenticeship?

There were two options available in my Trust: a three-year nurse apprenticeship or a two-year Nurse Associate apprenticeship.

There are pros and cons to both of these, but I decided to opt for the Nurse Associate apprenticeship because it's only a two-year commitment, and at the end of the two years you have an Foundation Science degree (FdSc) - half of a BSc basically.

Nurse Associate is a registered profession, you get a PIN and operate at Band 4. If you want, you can do a top up to get the full degree which gives Registered Nurse status and Band 5. How long the top-up takes and how soon you can do it seems to vary a lot but that isn’t something I need to worry about for now.

Placement Opportunities

One of the things I really liked about the Nurse Associate option was that I would spend most of my two years at my base placement; I will still do four 6 week placements elsewhere but for the two years I will be mostly working with my team which is great because I like them, I really like the work that we do, and I know I can learn a huge amount from my colleagues.

My four placements will cover adult nursing, paediatric nursing, mental health, and Learning Disability environments, and these will all be arranged by a university.

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The Application Process

I wouldn't say I badgered the Trust apprenticeship team, but I certainly kept in regular touch with them asking “any sign of when the apprenticeships will open”, “any word of what the timescales are” etc. and it was just as well I did because on one occasion when I emailed, they came back to say “Oh yeah they opened last week here's the link”. There had been no publicity about this at all and if I hadn't been actively pursuing it, I'd never have found out that they were open.

The initial application process was very straightforward and only involved a TRAC application form. But one thing that's worth being aware of when it comes to NHS job applications is that although there will be a closing date on the advert quite often there's a proviso that says applications may close earlier depending on the volume of applicants, so get in early - don't think “I've got three weeks to do it” because you might find that when you go to apply it's been closed early.

Anyway, after two or three weeks I got an e-mail to say yes, I've been shortlisted for a place on the apprentice Nurse Associate program and that I will be sent details of the universities that it would be an option for me to attend and details of their application process.

Attending University

I was given three options for university: two local and the Open University, I wasn't keen on Open University because I wanted to learn along with other students, and I also wanted the structure that goes with attending university regularly rather than the much more self-directed approach that goes with the OU.

I would have been happy to go with either of the local universities and my choice came down to which one had the soonest intake - one only had a September intake and the other only had February.

The university application process was more rigorous and involved a 500 word personal statement on why I thought I would make a good Nurse Associate, and attending the university for a half day that included an interview, a group task with other students , a group interview and a numeracy assessment.

The numeracy assessment wasn't a pass/fail criteria for acceptance onto the course - it was for the uni to find out how much support students might need with the numeracy element of the course.

All this went well, I was offered a place, and I started about three months ago.

I'm really glad that I'm doing the Nurse Associate apprenticeship, and I think it's an absolutely incredible way to get a degree. It doesn't cost you anything, you get paid to do it, and you get a huge amount of practical learning from it.

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Successfully Completing Your Apprenticeship

Successfully completing your apprenticeship is very heavily dependent upon you demonstrating evidence of learning that you have done on the job during the course of your apprenticeship.

This requires completing a Practice Assessment Document or PAD - which is typically electronic these days - of all the new learning you have done. There are 2300 hours of learning that need to be evidenced across the two years and that comprises 1,150 of practical and theoretical learning.

When it was getting close to starting the program, I was discussing this with my line manager and said that one of my concerns was how I would manage to achieve the protected learning hours.

Balancing Learning And Working Hours

I work 30 hours a week, which as it happens is the minimum required to be accepted on to an apprenticeship. I do one 8-hour shift and two 12-hour shifts.

Since starting the apprenticeship my 8-hour shift has become my university day and this will continue for all of the two years except when uni is on holiday. That leaves me with two 12 hour shifts to work as normal and to evidence my protected learning time – which has to be new learning, doing your day-to-day role doesn’t count.

My line manager’s solution, which is absolutely fantastic, is that on my two 12-hour long shifts I'm supernumerary for four hours of each shift, so that I have time to do my protected learning.

This can be theoretical material such as looking up conditions, medications, or treatments. Or can be practical learning such as going out with the nurses or other colleagues and doing things that I haven't done before.

Making Sure You Are Supported

I am incredibly well supported by my line manager and the nurses in the team who've been great at taking me out with them to do things or arranging for me to go out with other parts of the organization, but I know this isn't the case for all of the people on my course.

Some of them are having a very different experience and are being given hardly any support. This is another of those areas where you have to take control, be assertive and make the case for whatever support you need.

It is worth remembering that your employer will have signed a contract with the university to say they will make the time available for you to do your learning so make sure you get what you're entitled to. My university has said that, if necessary, they will step in to resolve any situations that arise around this and make sure employers are meeting their commitments to the apprentices.

How Is The Course Going So Far?

Three months in and we have just finished our first module and I have to say it has been quite intense. We've started with Anatomy and Physiology, and it has felt like we're doing a biology degree in the space of about six weeks. There was a huge amount of information to be taken on board which is quite challenging but also enjoyable and relevant.

But all told I'm really glad that I'm doing the Nurse Associate apprenticeship, and I think it's an absolutely incredible way to get a degree. It doesn't cost you anything, you get paid to do it, and you get a huge amount of practical learning from it - much more so I think than if you were doing a fulltime uni degree.

Employment After Your Apprenticeship

One thing that is worth mentioning is that for my apprenticeship I was given a new fixed two-year contract that finishes when I finish my apprenticeship - so I will be unemployed then.

However, I'm confident that there is likely to be a Band 4 role in my team and that I would be considered for it, but I also know that there's lots of Band 4 roles available throughout the Trust that I work for. A quick look at NHS jobs shows there are plenty of work opportunities out there so I'm not anxious about this at all, in fact I see it almost as a bonus that at the end of the apprenticeship I'm free to choose where I want to go.

So that's it, that's my story of how I came to be doing a Nurse Associate apprenticeship and how I'm getting on with it.

Thank you very much to the nurses.co.uk team for the opportunity to do this video and thank you for watching.

About the author

I am 57 and after 20+ years in management consulting I started as an NHS Community HCA in Jan 2022 with a view to using this as a gateway to nursing. So far, I love the role and I am in the process of applying for a TNA apprenticeship.

    • Mat Martin
    • Richard Gill
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  • 3459

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