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Master's degree rings up success for call handler who retrained as a nurse

Leanne Donovan

A former NHS Direct call handler has become a leading expert in dementia after taking the bold step to retrain.

In 2016 Leanne Donovan (pictured above), then aged 40, decided to take the plunge and begin studies to become a  nurse as opposed to dealing with patient queries over the telephone.

Having graduated from the University of South Wales Pontypridd in 2019, with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, in Mental Health, she took up a post as a staff nurse on an assessment ward in both Aneurin Bevan and Cwm Taf Health Boards and is currently practising as a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) in Swansea Bay.

However, having developed a thirst for learning, Leanne decided to dial things up a notch and enrolled on a master’s course, which specialised in dementia, a year later.

Now, after two years of part-time study, she has become the first and currently only person in South Wales to hold an MSc in Dementia Studies.

Leanne said: “I started off with NHS Direct, which is now 111, as a call handler. 

“Working with other nurses in NHS Direct, I just knew that I had more to give and I wanted to go down the clinical route.

“I then decided that I wanted to do my nurse’s training.”

Leanne continued working for NHS Direct, part time, during her training.

She said: “It was a big decision because of the money involved in reducing my hours. I had recently met my husband, Andrew, and we got married in my first year of training – he’s been tremendously supportive.”

During her training, Leanne had to choose a speciality.

She said: “I knew straight away that mental health was the path for me.

“The majority of my student placements were in the older adult field and I very quickly realised that this was the area of mental health nursing where my passion was and an area that I wanted to devote my expertise to.” 

Leanne said her passion for older adult nursing, in particular dementia care, was inspired by Karyn Davies, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader at USW and she expresses her gratitude for Karyn’s support and encouragement during both her courses at USW.

It didn’t take long for the learning bug to kick in again after Leanne graduated and began her nursing career.

She said: “I worked for a year after graduating but I have always been encouraged to pursue ongoing learning and updating skills and knowledge.

“The Master’s in Dementia Studies was a brand-new validated course in USW that I knew I wanted to be part of and I started that in September 2021.

“I managed to secure funding and study leave – I had one day off a week to attend university. “The workload was a lot but it was extremely enjoyable. I have had immense support from my line manager, Helen Wilfort, and the team at the Older People’s Mental Health Services. They have been hugely supportive. 

“There were 12 or 13 of us on the course but numbers dropped through one thing or another and at the point of graduation, in January, I will be the first ever, and currently only, graduate of the MSc in the whole of South Wales.” 

Leanne said she is now far better equipped to offer the best possible care to an increasing number of dementia patients.

She said: “Numbers are on the increase. Year by year it’s becoming more prevalent. Younger patients are suffering, we’re getting a lot of the sports related cases, which are in the news a lot lately. It’s something that everybody needs to be aware of. 

“My studies have allowed me to expand my knowledge on things like the professional and ethical issues involved in caring for patients with dementia. 

“We’ve learnt lots more about interventions and early diagnosis, and how imperative they are in caring for the older person. 

“Lots of the things we were taught were around being able to provide a person-centred care approach for patients with dementia. That’s of the upmost importance.”

And her advice to anyone thinking of improving their learning is: ‘go for it.’

She said: “I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone if you can get funding, or if you can manage to fund yourself in any way. I will continue to study throughout my work life. 

“I think ongoing education to improve your skills and knowledge, and to deliver excellent patient care is a paramount to your career.”

Leanne, who has been invited to help teach the next generation of master’ degree students, said she isn’t ready to become a doctor, a PhD one that is, quite yet.

She said: “They’ve ask me to help interview pre-registration students and if I would like to guest lecture on the next master’s course. 

“As for further qualifications, it was a lot of study so I’m going to take a break for at least 12 months and put into practice everything that I have learnt. “In the near future maybe I will pursue some leadership qualifications but I’m not sure of a PhD yet!”

Helen Wilfort, lead for the Older People's Mental Health Service in Port Talbot, said: “I have been Leanne’s manager for the past 2 years and I have been impressed with her enthusiasm and dedication to the course and to her commitment in her role as a community mental health nurse for older adults. 

“Leanne has overcome some personal challenges during her time studying, but I have witnessed her clinical development and I have no doubt that Leanne’s new-found knowledge will be an asset to our service and to mental health nursing within SBUHB. 

“We, as a community team in Port Talbot, are very proud of Leanne’s achievement and we are confident that patients living with dementia, their carers and our staff will benefit from her skills and expertise.”

Rydym yn croesawu gohebiaeth a galwadau ffôn yn y Gymraeg neu'r Saesneg. Atebir gohebiaeth Gymraeg yn y Gymraeg, ac ni fydd hyn yn arwain at oedi. Mae’r dudalen hon ar gael yn Gymraeg drwy bwyso’r botwm ar y dde ar frig y dudalen.

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