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Ballymena mum back to school after break of 20 years

Twenty years after leaving school, a County Antrim mum of two returned to full-time education at Northern Regional College in Ballymena to do a Foundation Degree.

Alison Kyle from Cullybackey had a long-term career goal of working in health and social care and with her two young children at school, she felt ready to enrol on the Foundation Degree in Health and Social Care at the College.

With the benefit of hindsight, she admits that her timing could have been better.

“We live on a busy farm and working through a global pandemic and home schooling did make things a bit more challenging but there’s never a dull moment,” she admits.

Being a glass half-full sort of person, Alison realises that the pandemic created different opportunities and experiences she would never had had in normal circumstances.

“As part of the course, I did a placement at Antrim Area Hospital and I’ve worked in the ICU there as a full-time nursing assistant since September 2020. On my first day, I was given a pair of scrubs and just had to get on with it. It was a steep learning curve, but a very valuable experience and I was able to learn so much. I’m so grateful to all the staff at ICU and consider myself very fortunate to work with such a strong and supportive team during this challenging time.”

As she works mostly nights at the hospital, Alison managed to juggle the demands of the course which, because of Covid restrictions was being delivered online. This often meant sitting down to her virtual classes having just completed her shift at the hospital.

Working in the healthcare sector runs in Alison’s family – her father is a GP and her older brother is a paramedic.

“I had always aspired to a career in health and social care, and the Foundation degree at Northern Regional College seemed like the logical place to start.

“The course is a combination of theory and practical and provides fantastic learning opportunities to get involved and explore a variety of subjects, all aimed at providing the best platform on which to base a career in health and social care.

“Despite COVID restrictions, the standard of teaching, access to leaning materials, support and guidance from lectures, careers department and library resources, have all been of the highest standards. The lecturers were very supportive: they made sure that we were kept up to date with any learning opportunities and encouraged us to carry out our own independent research.

“The foundation degree was hugely beneficial for me and helped pave the way for my return to education. I now have a clear direction on my career path and can look forward to achieving my ambitions, thanks to all those involved in the course and Northern Regional College.”

Although Alison started the course with the intention of becoming a nurse, her goal now is to become a paramedic. She has been applied to Ulster University to do a Paramedic Science degree at the Magee campus, an option not previously available in Northern Ireland.

“The foundation degree at Northern Regional College was my steppingstone to university and I would have no hesitation recommending it to anyone considering a career in the health and social care.”

Health and Social Care lecturer, Anne Marie McAleese, who co-ordinates the Foundation Degree in Health and Social Care at the College’s Ballymena campus, said Alison is a model ambassador for the course.

“I know I speak for all the team when I say we have been delighted to accompany Alison on her journey of lifelong learning. We are all incredibly proud of her achievements to date and wish her every success in the future.”

Anne Marie continued:

“Alison’s story represents the best of what we offer at Northern Regional College and we hope that it will inspire others to follow in her footsteps and return to education to achieve their own goals.

“In addition to the Foundation Degree in Health and Social Care, which is validated by Ulster University, Northern Regional College offers Foundation Degrees in Applied and Medical Science, Construction Engineering with Surveying, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Sports Science, Coaching and Fitness, Health and Social Care, Early Childhood Studies, Computing and Integrative Counselling.”