May 28, 2021, by School of Medicine

30 at 30: My six-year nursing rollercoaster through a worldwide pandemic and near-death experience to registration 

Rivers McLean at different stages of his journey

Growing up, I wanted to become a lifeguard. I spent every Saturday at my local swimming bath and all evening watching Baywatch over and over imagining what it would be like to actually save someone’s life and how rewarding this would be to me. 

It wasn’t until I met a true gentleman (who, at the time, believed in me more than I believed in myself) whilst working as a community care assistant, that I considered nursing as a career; I had no GCSEs and was from a council estate, me a registered nurse – as if!  Nonetheless, ‘Sir’ Yeates (as we affectionately called him) asked me to promise I would go back to college then on to university to become a registered nurse. 

Armed with the self-belief and confidence ‘Sir’ Yeates had bestowed on me before he sadly passed away, I started my nursing rollercoaster in September 2015.  I couldn’t have been prouder or happier to start my Adult nursing training in my hometown at The University of Nottingham. 

One year later I thought my nursing career had finished before starting.  One AWOL assignment and I was literally taken off the programme. However, with my personal tutor behind me 100% and an extenuating circumstance submitted to the School of Health Sciences, I was to be brought back on the programme in 2017.  I was both devastated and optimistic; I knew I was returning after a year’s interruption but the people I’d met would no longer be there – I was now a cohort behind. 

Full of pride and joy I started year two of my nursing training a year later than originally anticipated but sailed through to my third and final year: completion year, graduation year!  I successfully completed the first three clinical placements but a mere four weeks into my final placement I had a bleed.  Never one to do things by halves, it was discovered the bleed was on the brain and I nearly lost my life as a consequence. 

Another year out, again!  Another year behind the new peers I’d met in 2017.  This year off was needed for recovery and healing as I had also lost the ability to walk but I was determined to get out my wheelchair and walk again.  I had gone from a student nurse who was eight weeks away from registration to an inpatient of sixteen weeks. I now experienced occupational therapy and physiotherapy first-hand.  The recovery was hard, both physically and mentally, and impacted my confidence.  Would I ever lead my own life?  Would I regain the use of my legs?  Would I get back to and finish my nursing training?  Many, times I wanted to throw in the towel, give up and say, ‘young men where you’re from don’t grow up and qualify as nurses anyway, good try Rivers!’ 

At just the right time, my personal tutor visited me in hospital and reassured me that I would get back to my training and that, at least for the time being, I needed to focus on my own recovery.  My tutor didn’t have to visit but this shows just how far the tutors at University of Nottingham will go to support their students and this support was continuous.  Deep down, I knew ‘Sir’ Yeates was watching over me too; how else had I survived a bleed to the brain and learnt to walk independently again?  I still had a promise to keep! 

In January 2021 I returned to University to undertake my final placement in the midst of a global pandemic.  I was nervous and fearful that I would be judged for my time out of practice and my capability after the brain bleed.  However, two shifts in I could see how caring, supportive and compassionate this placement team was.  The nerves left and my previous training came rushing back.  I was doing what I love most, managing and leading my own patient workload, and doing it during a worldwide pandemic! 

In March 2021, six years after I started my training, I was signed off for registration and qualification to become the Adult nurse I was destined to be.  It took me longer than most to qualify and it was an emotional rollercoaster of a journey yet here I am, having finished what I started. 

All an individual needs is a passion for nursing sprinkled with self-confidence and self-belief as, with the help of the tutors at the University of Nottingham, there’s nothing an individual can’t achieve. 

It’s suggested you only live once in today’s society: my motto is that you only die once and you live every day. 

Enjoy your time at the University of Nottingham transforming the lives of both students and patients – I know I did. 

By Rivers Levi McLean, Adult Nursing graduate

Posted in 30 Years of NursingAlumniNursing