Belle Stevenson graduates this winter with a degree in Nursing.
Belle had always wanted to pursue a career in nursing. In fact, it’s in her genes, with several generations of her family having served the local community, including an aunt who was a midwife during World War II, and another more recently who was a Director of Nursing. However, Belle left school at 15 and did not feel ready to take on such a professional role, she didn’t see herself as academic in any way. Instead, she decided to spend time travelling and working, before getting married and raising a family.
Throughout her life, Belle has faced some personal challenges, which at times seemed insurmountable. This coupled with the deaths of a newborn baby and young child in her family strengthened her desire to become a nurse. As Belle explains:
“Following an acrimonious marriage break-up, I took the plunge at the age of 48 to get back into education and follow my dream to become a nurse. When I joined Ulster University, I instantly felt at home and loved the sense of community and culture at the Derry~Londonderry campus. I seized every opportunity I could to enjoy the student experience and joined the Equestrian Club, became a course rep for my nursing group and later Chair of the Nursing Society.”
As part of her degree, Belle completed practice-based learning which has given her the confidence and much-needed skills to prepare for the world of nursing post-graduation:
“These opportunities have enabled me to interact and connect with patients and their families which I hope makes a difference to their day. I am happy to be there for them – whether that’s just by listening to them, talking to them, holding their hand during a medical procedure, sitting quietly at the bedside of a palliative patient or with someone at the end of their life, comforting them and supporting their family in the final hours. This can be both emotional and humbling but very rewarding. It’s an honour to be that person who provides comfort and compassionate care at these most difficult times.”
Studying to become a nurse during the pandemic posed its own challenges, but Belle describes how the support systems in place both at Ulster University and the Western Trust gave her the encouragement she needed:
“During the past three years, I have worked on both Covid and non-Covid wards and across a wide range of teams and disciplines within the nursing profession. I have had placements with the rapid response team, district nursing, medical wards, cardiac units, in mental health settings and health visiting. At times, things were overwhelming, and I did nurse some incredibly sick patients, but emotional support was always provided by staff and peers in clinical settings, and by teaching staff and supervisors from the university.”
Alongside her studies, Belle has taken every opportunity afforded to her including being part of the university’s ‘Face of Ulster’ marketing campaign and appearing in a video for Nursing NI about equality in the profession. Belle has won several internal university awards as well as winning the Student of the Year award in the inaugural NI Health and Social Care Awards (2022), and she was named as a finalist in the UK-wide Nursing Times Awards in two categories. Last year, Belle had the opportunity to represent the School of Nursing in a surprise virtual zoom call with the then-Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, followed by a face-to-face visit on campus later in the year.
Belle is now following in her family’s footsteps as she takes up her lifelong dream post as a registered staff nurse with the Neonatal ICU at Altnagelvin Hospital where she will be providing care to newborn babies and supporting their families.
For anyone considering applying to university after a break in education, Belle’s advice is:
“You may be worried about the academic side of things, the learning environment and all the advancing programmes and technology. But there really is no need to worry about all of that because support systems are in place at Ulster University. The School of Nursing and Paramedic Science has an outstanding level of pastoral care and student support which will enable you to flourish. I was constantly supported and encouraged to excel in my learning, development and best practice.”
If you would like to find out more about Nursing at Ulster University visit: https://www.ulster.ac.uk/faculties/life-and-health-sciences/nursing