A mum-of-six has finally fulfilled her dream of becoming a nurse 20 years after she gave up her studies to have a baby – overcoming the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic in the process.
Katherine Cummings, from Coedpoeth, near Wrexham, is now celebrating both her graduation and that baby, her eldest son, going to Cambridge University.
She first enrolled as a student nurse in 2000 only to fall pregnant with her first child after her first year – five more children later she went back and has just been awarded her nursing degree from Bangor University.
It’s a double celebration for the family because that little boy, Ryan, is now 20 and is in his second year at Cambridge where he is studying Natural Sciences.
But it hasn’t been plain sailing for Katherine, now 40, this time either with the coronavirus pandemic threatening to derail her studies.
Her daughter, Sinead, now 18, was born disabled and has been shielding while her mum has been in the thick of the fight against Covid-19 on the wards at Wrexham’s Maelor Hospital.
Katherine said: “I was quite scared about it, especially as my daughter is shielding so it was a tough decision as a parent to carry on because you always put your child first.
“But this was what I’d always wanted to do and if I’d been qualified I would have had to carry on anyway – it had taken me all this time. I couldn’t stop when I was so close.
“When I came back to nursing I had to do a two-year access course because I had been out of education for so long and now I was just 16 weeks from graduation at the end of three more years.
“I carried on because I knew if I kept to all the prevention measures then I couldn’t see how I could bring the virus home to the children.
“I have a shower and get changed at work so I should be rid of any risk of infection so I am completely clean when I get into the car to drive home and it has worked.”
It’s a long delayed dream come true for Katherine who said: “I always wanted to be a nurse but I think I was probably too young first time round.
“You need a certain level of maturity and life skills but I knew I always wanted to do it, I always had that dream.
“I come from a family of nurses on my dad’s side, including four sisters who are all nurses while my mum, Denise, was a carer and when she got cancer we had to care for her.”
Realising that dream hasn’t been plain sailing for Katherine who has had to juggle her university course, work placements and six children and the support from her close family has been a lifeline.
But she says she’s loved the course and her time at Bangor University’s Wrexham campus and she said: “We’re a really tight-knit and close team there and you get to know all the tutors as well as the student nurses.
“We’ve been very lucky in the people we’ve had looking after us and Dianne Rimmer, my personal tutor has been really good.
“I’ve become a bit like the union rep or the mum. I’m the person the other students go to if they have a problem.
“At the same time I’ve had plenty of support from all my family with the children who have been very good as well.”
Dianne Rimmer, Lecturer in Health Sciences and a former Matron, said: “Katherine is always the one who sorts any problems out and she is the spokesperson for the group.
“She is also the first to help someone and the first to volunteer for open days, admissions day and interview days – they say if you want something done, ask a busy person but I don’t know how she finds the time.
“She doesn’t just do her work and placements which add up to a lot but it’s all the extra-curricular activities and she does them out of a desire to help people and to put others before herself.”
Katherine’s placements have included medical and surgical wards as well as on the pandemic frontline and most recently time at Berwyn prison where she has been part of the team treating the inmates.
Katherine said: “I had expected it to be a lot scarier but the healthcare team at the prison were brilliant and made me very welcome and very much part of the team.
“While I was at Berwyn there was a report into the healthcare facilities there and it was found to be one of the best in the whole country.”
She is now having a month off before she returns – and her first posting is back at Berwyn: “I loved it there”, he said: “But after seeing the care my mum received at end of life, I would really like to become an oncology nurse.”
For more on Bangor University go to https://www.bangor.ac.uk/