Published on 2 October 2019
When Jenny Vaux started work at the QEQM as a cleaner, she never imagined that two decades later she would be caring for patients as a ward sister.
But thanks to her hard work and determination, that’s exactly what she did – first re-taking GCSE exams at night school while working full time, then enrolling on a degree course at the age of 38.
Jenny, 44, from Ramsgate, is now a passionate advocate of life-long learning and encourages others to consider a nursing career, whatever their age or background.
She said: “When I left school, my highest GCSE grade was D. My mum had friends who were cleaners at the hospital and they helped me get a job so I wasn’t doing nothing.
“But as soon as I got to the hospital I could see the other opportunities to make a difference, and when a job as a health care assistant (HCA) came up eight months later I just went for it.”
Managers saw her potential and she started working on an orthopaedic ward, which fuelled her thirst for knowledge.
Jenny said: “I learned so much, and I loved it. It was so interesting to find out about bones and muscles, as well as how to support people and help them recover.”
Eager to develop, Jenny took on a role as a ward clerk alongside her HCA position, then added therapy assistant to her CV
After having her second child, Jenny went back to working as an HCA and part-time ward clerk, learning valuable admin skills to complement her clinical knowledge.
She said: “One day I was sitting in the office and I thought I was ready to take the next step and start training as a nurse.
“But I didn’t have any qualifications. So I started an NVQ during the day while still working full time, then went to college for two hours a week in the evening to do my English GCSE.
“I ended up with an A* and I was so proud. I went on to do maths, and got a C which was fantastic for me, and then science, which was a B. And finally I could go to university.”
At 38, Jenny quickly became ‘mum’ to her fellow students, and while she passed the practical aspects of the course with flying colours, the academic side proved more challenging.
Despite long hours in the library she initially failed three modules and had to re-sit them – all while balancing home life with two children, and working agency shifts as an HCA to help pay the bills.
She said: “There were times I felt like giving up. But in the third year it all came together and I ended up with a 2:2 degree.
“My graduation at Canterbury Cathedral was the best day of my life, apart from having the children. I absolutely loved it and I was so proud.”
Her first day on the ward as a qualified nurse was daunting, but Jenny was not put off and flourished.
She said: “The transition from student nurse to trained nurse was difficult, but I was determined and I absolutely loved the job.
“It was really scary to put on my uniform for the first day. It marks you out and people expect you to know the answers. But I went home feeling great.
“When the opportunity came up to take on the sister role I decided to go for it. I’d never aspired to be a sister, because I didn’t think I had the confidence.
“But I took it on as a development role at first and then got the job permanently and I was ecstatic.
“There is still lots to learn, but sometimes I look back at how far I’ve come and I’m just amazed. I think it shows you can do anything if you work hard and really want it and now I’d always encourage others to take up nursing later in life.
“It’s a brilliant job and I love being able to make a difference.”