Innovation at Argyll College: one programme, seven centres and lots of successful students!
As part of SWAP’s North of Scotland development project, to bring opportunities to adult returners living in more remote areas of Scotland, SWAP worked with UHI Argyll to develop a programme for adults living across the western highlands. The result was an innovative programme, deliverable to students attending different local learning centres, weaponising video and online learning to engage and teach. Since 2019 over 70 SWAP Nursing students have enrolled, attending UHI’s centres in Oban, Bute, Lochgilphead, Helensburgh, Dunoon, Arran, and Campbeltown. The majority successfully complete the programme and move on to university.

Course tutor and developer, Linda Brown, writes below on the experience so far.

 <linda_b.jpg> It only seems like yesterday when the new SWAP Access to Nursing programme started at UHI Argyll. Not only was this a new programme, but also a new style of learning for adult returners using a mix of online and classroom-based learning. At the time, it was difficult to predict this would become the norm for many SWAP programmes because of the pandemic.

Before COVID-19 our first students, from across Argyll, studied from their local Centre facing a television screen. Everyone could see, hear and participate in class. It worked well and students were engaged, then in March 2020 we found ourselves in lockdown. This became challenging. Students were at home sometimes with only one device, however, being able to connect and see each other offered normality during a very difficult time. All students successfully completed the programme, most moved on to university and are only a couple months away from qualifying as registered nurses. Here’s what they had to say about their experience.

Melany Boyde: Learning Disability Nursing, Year 3 at GCU: 
''I applied for access to nursing on a whim at 3am one morning when I couldn't sleep and was rethinking my life. I’m so glad I did and followed through with it; it’s changed my life and given me a better future. Yes, it was hard work. Yes, I thought about quitting. Yet I’m now only few months away from being a qualified learning disability nurse. If learning disability nursing has not crossed your mind, look into it, and go for it. I knew this was what I wanted from the first day! I am so thankful for SWAP access to nursing!’'

Nicola Cawthera: Adult Nursing, Year 3 at Stirling:
‘‘Starting the SWAP access to Nursing was daunting as I had been out of education for so long, however the support and encouragement I received from tutors and fellow students was overwhelming. SWAP prepared me for university and the transition to becoming a student nurse. I’m now in the final months of my degree, and I think the Access to Nursing programme has enabled me to be a successful and confident student nurse. I love doing my degree and can’t wait to transition into a staff nurse. I have the tutors on the course to thank for that. The last 4 years have gone in a flash and it’s the best decision I ever made.’’

With our 2020 cohort of Access to Nursing students, we were still in lockdown; students were at home for the academic year. Some supported health care services by working extra hours. This gave them great insight into their desired profession. Now in their 2nd year of nursing education, these students continue to enjoy the challenge and offer their reflection of being a SWAP student. 

Sharna Graham, Student of the Year 2020/21: Adult Nursing, Year 2 at UWS:
 <sharna_g.jpg> ‘’After years working both in the community and in care homes I felt the natural progression was to go into nursing, that's why I joined the Access to Nursing course. With not many relevant qualifications, the access to nursing course, and what it offered, was the perfect way to start my journey. I was excited to be accepted to the course and put everything I had into every assignment. I won the “Best student” award in 2020, a massive achievement for me. This course opened doors to university where I’m about to complete my second year. The support and guidance from lecturers was amazing, nothing was too much trouble. Being a SWAP student helped lay the foundations to progress in my nursing degree. I’m proud to be a SWAP student, and I would recommend to anyone looking to get back into education to think about a SWAP course.’’ 

Amanda Beverley: Adult Nursing, Year 2 at UWS:
‘‘My learning journey started with a dream of becoming a nurse, over the last 2 and a half years that dream is quickly becoming a reality. With the help of the SWAP Access to Nursing course and its amazing tutors at Argyll College, who supported me after being away from education, I was prepared to start my journey at university to obtain my nursing degree. I’ve had some challenges in the last 2 and a half years, especially when it came to balancing home, work, and studies, but a wise tutor once told me I will only get out of this experience what I put into it. I’ve had a variety of placements as a student nurse, and am currently in a theatre placement area which I absolutely love. In this this journey I have learnt that I love to learn; I take every learning opportunity I can and find and reflect on things automatically now. I didn’t realise how important reflection was at the start of my access course. No matter how overwhelmed I feel sometimes I know that one of the best things I have ever done is apply for the SWAP access to nursing course because next year I will earn my pin and my dream of becoming a nurse will have come true.’’

In 2021 most students studied from home; however some students had access to Centres for classes. It worked amazingly, we could all see and hear each other regardless of location. UHI’s Webex software breakout rooms meant group work could be mixed across the whole class/Centres, or the lecturer and student could speak privately.  

Ben Collins, Student of the Year 2021/22: Adult Nursing, Year 1 at UWS: <ben_c.jpg>
’'The Access to Nursing (SWAP) course I found to be a very supportive area. I had high expectations for the course and can say it was nothing less than expected! It’s an amazing way to start following your dreams even if you think it’s too late. I would recommend this to anyone unsure where to start and anyone who has thought about it. It was an amazing first step.’’

Danielle Cawthera: Adult Nursing, Year 1 at Edinburgh Napier:
‘‘I started my nursing journey with the Access to Nursing course in 2021 and am now halfway through my first year of university, having finished my first placement. I couldn’t be more grateful for the time and effort given to us by the SWAP course tutors. Going back into education after being out for so long is daunting and quite scary. The course set me up for university and built my confidence massively. I’m really looking forward to the rest of my journey and wouldn’t have been able to do it without Linda and the rest of the team.’’

Currently our Access to Nursing students have returned to Centres, with a few studying from home, they are excitedly waiting on university offers. 

Lauren Gairns: Access to Nursing, Helensburgh, 2022/23:
‘‘Returning to education has been made easier by having the flexibility to join classes from home and access to content for lessons via Brightspace (VLE) has been useful when life gets in the way at home.  The support for students is excellent; students can access learning support, counselling, 1:1 support from tutors, and support with UCAS applications. Tutors are receptive, listen to feedback, and adjust the course to meet our needs.  The SWAP community has helped prepare us for higher education with study skills days and university open days. Our local centre gave the opportunity to participate in Bystanders CPR, a good way to put our learning into practice.’’ 

Bethany Ions: Access to Nursing, Rothesay, 2022/23:
‘’I started the SWAP Access to Nursing course after being out of education for 7 years. I felt like a fish out of water for the first semester. Once I received feedback from tutors, I started believing that I could complete this course. I’ve always wanted to be an adult nurse so applying for university was surreal. However, with constant support and encouragement from my course tutor, I applied. Throughout this course I have been supported in my life outside of college and my learning. SWAP makes studying very accessible for people with different circumstances. SWAP has given me the opportunity to move forward with my career as well as given me a base for Higher education. I am hoping to specialise as a Geriatric nurse.’’ 
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