The riverside at Inverness was a sea of gowns and broad grins on Friday (5 November), as the graduation ceremony for the University of Stirling’s Highland and Western Isles students got underway. The event took place at St Andrew’s Cathedral, beginning at noon.
More than a hundred students of nursing and midwifery gathered to receive their diplomas and certificates – every one of them with a personal story of the disappointments, challenges and successes experienced along the way.
Invergordon mother and daughter Mandy and Vikki Gunn have spent the last three years living and studying together for their BSc degrees in Adult Nursing. So it’s fitting that they should also graduate together.
Both did a one-year Access Nursing Course in Higher Care at separate institutions, before coming together to begin their University degree course. However, they arrived at that point by very different routes.
“I had always wanted to become a nurse but chose to have my family first,” Mandy explains. “So while Vikki and my son Sean were young, I tested the water by doing auxiliary nurse shift work for seven years at Redwood Nursing home in Alness. “That meant my husband and I were both on shift work, which took its toll of our family time together. So I went on to full time employment at a nail varnish factory, where I spent the next eight years. However my goal was always to qualify as a nurse by the time I was forty.
“By the time the kids were old enough for me to feel I could concentrate on myself – and I had begun to put my study plans into action – it was obvious that Vikki was also becoming interested in the idea of nursing. And for me, that first day when we went off to the University campus to begin our course was very exciting.”
Which begged the question: was it also exciting for daughter Vikki?
“Definitely,” insists Vikki. “Having Mum as a classmate was perfectly okay. Probably because she’s a very chilled out mum and she’s pretty relaxed about me and what I get up to.”
“We’ve always had a close relationship and are good friends, quite apart from being mother and daughter,” Mandy adds. “I found it very reassuring to have her alongside me although we both very quickly struck up friendships with separate student groups.”
Since they were on the same course, the two women studied together in the critical times, although Vikki’s busy social life sometimes led to typical mother-daughter exchanges. Mostly though, they supported each other through the challenges and stresses of study.
“Going through the degree course together was really good,” Vikki insists. “I tend to be forgetful and Mum was very supportive and often reminded me when I had deadlines looming. On the other hand, Mum isn’t that comfortable around computers and I’m fine with them. So we helped each other out a lot in that way.”
Meanwhile, Mandy was coping with those issues which can bedevil adult returners to education. “The younger students were very laid back – mostly because they had just come out of the school system and were used to having projects, deadlines and tests,” she recalls.
“I hadn’t been near the education system for over 20 years and as a result, I didn’t have their confidence. I took longer to write essays and could see that Vikki’s submissions would read completely differently from my own. I wrote in a more technical and medical style, while Vikky’s work was set out more in layman’s terms and was probably a lot easier to understand!”
With nursing, the two women soon realised that they had separate areas of interest, with Vikki gaining a lot of confidence and enjoyment from her student placements at Migdale Hospital’s rehabilitation centre for the elderly and her time spent working in the medical admissions ward. Mandy was drawn more toward the surgical side of the work, and felt particularly comfortable on her placement in the surgical unit. Inevitably though, there were times when both women felt out of their depth and overwhelmed by aspects of their study.
“At those moments when I really began to believe that running the home and doing the course work was beyond me, my 18-year-old son Sean would come to the rescue,” Mandy explains. “He would often arrive home at night to find both Vikki and me completely stressed about the next project or essay deadline.
“He really did have to ride the storm, but he stayed positive and encouraged both of us to keep going. Now that he has embarked on his own college course, I guess we will be repaying those favours. Although Sean’s didn’t extend to making an evening meal… and I know that mine will!”
Now that they are graduating, how do Mandy and Vikki feel about their studying experience?
“It already feels weird, not having lectures to go to and not being with the same group every day,” Vikki admits. “But I know that at University, I made some friends for life. I recently got engaged and now I’m job hunting big style!”
“Well, I’m really pleased to have fulfilled a long-held career ambition,” admits Mandy, “but I don’t know whether I could have managed it without the support of my family and friends.
“Doing the course has improved my self-image, partly because I’ve had such lovely positive feedback from both my University mentors and my patients. And getting a degree is the icing on the cake – something which, just a few years ago, I would never have thought possible. Really for me, studying and learning was a lovely experience…and I felt quite honoured to be going through it with my daughter.”