North London Partners in health and care

From secretary to registered Nursing Associate

Nursing associate is a highly trained and professionally registered clinical role, supporting and delivering nursing and healthcare across a wide range of health and care settings. Nursing associates work as clinical practitioners with others, under the leadership and direction of a registered nurse. For former secretary Ghazala Shabbir, the Nursing Associate Training Scheme offered the opportunity of a completely new career.

Ghazala, registered Nursing Associate


Wednesday 10 July 2019 was a proud day in the Shabbir household because it’s the day when mother of three Ghazala Shabbir graduated as a registered nursing associate from Middlesex University.

Ghazala, who now works on Coyle Ward for trauma and orthopaedics at Whittington Hospital has taken a circuitous route into nursing. She left school to study chemistry, despite dreaming of studying medicine, but found that working in a lab was not the career she had in mind. Marriage, a young family and a variety of part-time jobs followed before she landed a job with the NHS working at Port Health Gatwick, where she really enjoyed the interactions with passengers.

In fact Ghazala never thought of nursing until she heard of the Trainee Nursing Associates Apprenticeship programme, which meant that she would be paid while she trained.

Despite finding the early months tough, working in a role that was new for both trainees and the staff around them, Ghazala was able to seek support.  Alongside learning about the theory of nursing care at university, she was getting experience of fundamental clinical and personal care skills through her work.  She “learned it is not just giving medicine or wound dressing, it is the holistic approach.”

Ghazala also mastered the challenges of returning to study, writing essays and working hard to find time for the reading.  Middlesex University lecturers and librarians provided study support but Ghazala found that discussing things with her fellow trainees – a number of whom were also based at Whittington Health – really helpful.  “We all had different skills so we shared them with one another and supported each other.” 

Her ward manager, Julie Brown, and other nursing colleagues on Coyle Ward were also really helpful and continue to be so. Ghazala said “I ask a lot of questions. There are still days when new things come up and I think ‘oh!’ and I will double check things to be careful.”

There was also plenty of practice and clinical support for the trainees from the established staff - Niamh Murphy, practice development nurse for the Trainee Nursing Associates, and Claire Davies, practice development nurse for Preceptorship. Ghazal remembers “Without them we were all lost. They’ve really supported everyone, the staff as well as us.”

The support continues for a year following registration – something Ghazala values.  “You know you are registered as a nursing associate and you need to do things on your own.  But I needed extra support at the beginning to develop my confidence.  People told me I could do it but I did not believe it myself.”

But now Ghazala is of the belief that if she can do it, others can also do it and recommends the course to health care assistant friends. “They have the skills and experience and this is a great opportunity to move up the ladder.”

The other advantage of training via the apprenticeship route into a nursing associate role is that trainees get placements in four fields: acute settings, community settings, mental health settings and primary care – you can use the skills gained on these placements in your current job.

Whittington Health was pleased to be involved in these new roles.  Chief Executive and Workforce lead for North Central London Siobhan Harrington – who is also a nurse – said: “We are extremely proud to have some of the first nursing associates in the country.  This new role provides a great opportunity for staff to progress into registered nursing positions and provides an extra level of skill in caring for patients, on wards or in the community.”

After registration, Ghazala stayed at Whittington Hospital and on the ward where she trained. She enjoys it because she knows her colleagues and the ward and is familiar with the work.

But the best thing about her new role is the patients. “If the patient says that you made a difference that makes a difference. I might not have achieved everything that I sent out to do for the day but as long as they are happy with me and I am happy with what I have done for them that makes all the difference.”

When she gets home she gets taken care of by her daughters who are now aged 13, 17 and 19. “They look after me very well.  They give me my dinner. They’ve really been supportive.  I am proud of myself but they are very proud of me – it inspires them to do well for themselves. I say to them, ‘if I can do it you can do it’.”

Would you like to be a nursing associate, or do you know someone that could be a nursing associate?

Middlesex University is currently accepting expressions of interest for a December 2019 intake. Please contact Daniella Halil at Community Matters email  for application information.