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Inspirational student Rebekah Davison from Magherafelt, Co. Londonderry graduates from Ulster University today with a first class honours degree in Psychology.

A dedicated volunteer with NI Chest, Heart and Stroke (NICHS) she actively sought a placement with the charity, igniting a passion and research interest that has led to her receiving the coveted Diana Award.

With ambitions to work in healthcare from an early age Rebekah undertook a work placement in Antrim Area Hospital,

“I quickly realised that being a nurse and being extremely squeamish was not a good mix.”

Undeterred this led her to discover her real interest was in the human brain and understanding why we do what we do.  With this realisation came the decision to enrol at Ulster to study Psychology.

A major draw to applying to the University for Rebekah was the opportunity to take on a placement year. Keen to understand the effects of stroke first hand, after studying research articles as part of her degree, she reached out to NICHS for volunteering experience.  Two and half years later she is still an active and selfless volunteer with the charity working within the PREP programme - a post-rehab exercise programme for stroke survivors. Speaking of her experience Rebekah said,

“Seeing the effects of stroke breaks my heart, but it is also so amazing to watch patients progress through recovery, it is extremely rewarding to be a part of their stroke journey.”

In spite of caring responsibilities for her family and balancing her university studies, Rebekah is dedicated to putting the needs of others before herself which led her to receiving the Diana Award in Stormont last month.  Established in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, the award is the most prestigious accolade a young person aged 9-25 years can receive for their social action or humanitarian work.  Already a passionate ambassador, fundraiser and supporter within NICHS Rebekah has her sights set on making even more of an impact.  Having recently presented her dissertation research on the stroke caregiver experience in Northern Ireland at the NI Stroke conference her long term ambition is to improve the support services for caregivers. Rebekah will be investigating the effects of exercise on stroke patient recovery - the subject of her PhD research as she continues her studies at Ulster.

“Working with stroke patients every week has given me a passion to better the stroke services in Northern Ireland and make a positive difference to the lives of those who are affected by stroke. Stroke is devastating, not only for the stroke survivor but for their family.  I have had the opportunity to work with family caregivers throughout my journey as a volunteer. I resonate with them as my mum is a primary caregiver for my Granda who has dementia, and I know how difficult that can be at times.”

For many achieving a degree, let alone a first class honours, is a major accomplishment.  The fact that Rebekah was able to achieve this on top of volunteering with NICHS and Dementia Care whilst achieving a distinction in her placement is truly admirable.  Combining her passion, brains and caring nature she is a true inspiration to young people and how they can help make a difference in our society.