John Templeton
Nursing at Glasgow Clyde College (Langside) 2014-15
GCU Mental Health Nursing – Graduated 2018
From a very young age, I knew I wanted to join the Army. I saw myself as a military man, and never engaged much with formal academic study at school, as it was always my plan to join up as soon as I could, and I never really considered going to college or university. Looking back on it, I can see that I was very much an underachiever at school, but I had a completely different focus back then.  

Unfortunately, after just nine years in the military – and long before I was ready to leave it – I suffered a back injury that resulted in me being medically discharged. I had not long been married when that happened, and within a year we had twin boys on the way, so I had to scramble around and take whatever work I could get. I went from job to job over the years, never really settling on anything that excited or interested me and, although I didn’t realise it at the time, I was gradually becoming more and more unwell. My mental health began to suffer, and it got so bad it affected everything. It eventually led to the breakdown of my marriage, in fact, and to a very long period of unemployment. Those were dark days. I don’t like to dwell too much on that period, but it does provide a stark contrast to what my life is like now.  

What changed?  

Well, long story short, I got treatment. Having been diagnosed with clinical depression, I was able to get help through the NHS and, in the process, met many amazing professionals who supported me and helped bring me back to good health. Later on, I began volunteering and doing advocacy work for other veterans, and gradually realised that I was ready to think about getting back into employment. One of the nurses that I worked with suggested teaching as a possible career path, and that did appeal to me, but I had been reflecting on the treatments I’d had over the years and how effective they had been. I thought about the nurses who had made such an impact on me, and decided that mental health nursing was what I wanted to do.  

I knew I would need to gain formal qualifications for getting into university, but when I first started looking into it I was daunted by the costs. I didn’t realise at the time that, as a Scottish citizen, I was entitled to have my college and university fees paid by the Scottish government – I didn’t know anything about the process at all!  

However, a chance conversation with Lee, my Occupational Therapist, changed my life. We were chatting about my next steps and I mentioned the fact that I wanted to go to  university, but I “couldn’t afford” it. He told me that he’d returned to education as an adult through something called the ‘Scottish Wider Access Programme’ and that it hadn’t cost him a thing. He pulled up the SWAP web site on the computer and showed it to me, and encouraged me to apply.  

A programme for adults who have been out of education for a long time and need a qualification to get into university? Sounds great!  

I was excited by the prospect, but also apprehensive. My self-confidence was still quite low at that point, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to cope. In any case, it was the wrong time of year to apply, so I had to leave it a few months. But I kept thinking about it, and eventually decided to take the plunge. I applied for a place at Glasgow Clyde College, and began studying on the SWAP Access to Nursing programme in August of 2014.  

There, I met some truly amazing people – wonderful lecturers like Lesley Newton and Nicola Rowley, who have so much energy and enthusiasm, and such a passion for teaching and learning, you could not help but be encouraged and motivated by them. They pushed us hard and taught us all so much. I am always mindful now of the lessons learned, not only about nursing practice, but about the values and principles of good quality care, and the importance of continuing education for professional nurses.  

During my year at college, I served as Class Representative, and also sat on the Student Association Executive Committee. I wrestled a little with anxiety at times, but I drew upon my experiences in therapy and developed techniques for coping with stress. I completed my programme with top marks, receiving AAA on my final student profile.  

Upon completion of my SWAP programme, I went on to study Mental Health Nursing at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), where I met many more amazing and inspiring people – not just the teaching staff, who were lovely and supportive, but also students, many of whom had also taken the SWAP route into higher education. Even some of the nurses I met on placement were former SWAP students – they’re everywhere!  

My placements were amazing, and I really enjoyed the whole process of learning again. During first year at university, I got 96% or 97% on my biology exams, and that is thanks to the SWAP programme and the dedicated teachers at GCC Langside. The year at college really set me up for success at university, and I am delighted to say that I graduated in 2018 with a degree in Mental Health Nursing. 

My twin boys, now age 21, came to celebrate with me at graduation, and it was such a great day. A total whirlwind, but also a day of deep reflection. There I was, all robed-up and ready to go, and I realised that for the first time in a very long time I felt truly proud of myself and what I’d achieved.  


So, what’s next?  

Well, I plan to work as a nurse, of course, but I am also keen to continue with my education. I’ve been considering going into the research side of things – years ago, if I’d heard myself say that, I’d have given myself a slap. Ha! But I appreciate now how important research is to nursing, and it’s something I have come to really enjoy doing. I’m also thinking of teaching. I can see myself someday going back to study for the TQFE, so that I can teach in Further Education colleges like the one where I did my access programme. Who knows? Maybe someday I will be the one in front of a SWAP class, encouraging people who are ready to embrace their second chance at education.  

If you’re thinking about applying for SWAP, I want you to know this: age is no barrier; a history of poor mental health is no barrier. If you’re committed to it and ready to work hard, you can do it. Seize the opportunity, gather the support you need, and give it all you’ve got.

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