June saw the annual RCN NI Nurse of the Year Awards and it proved to be a successful night for Open University in Ireland students and alumni. The awards provide the opportunity to highlight and celebrate excellence within nursing in Northern Ireland and the contribution that nursing staff make to the health and well-being of people across the region.
Grace McAleer, a final year pre-registration nursing student, won the Student Nurse of the Year Award. Her nomination focused on her commitment to addressing the gap in health care provision for people in Northern Ireland impacted by female genital mutilation (FGM). Earlier this year, Grace was awarded the RCN Northern Ireland Gabrielle Award bursary to expand her expertise around FGM.
On receiving her award Grace said: “I am so honoured as an Open University student and Belfast Trust employee to receive the Student Nurse of The Year Award, particularly considering the other great students nominated for the Award. The Award provides me with a platform to highlight the important but hidden issue of FGM that needs brought into the spotlight. I hope the Award serves as a platform to raise awareness further and so that we can begin to develop the services that are needed to meet the population needs in Northern Ireland.”
Her nominator explained how Grace epitomises the values of person-centred care, compassion, and concern for an under-served population, displaying leadership qualities, resourcefulness and courage. The judges agreed, commending Grace on her passion, knowledge, and commitment to changing practice.
Nathan Weir, an Open University pre-registration nursing programme alumnus, was awarded the Chief Nursing Officer Rising Star Award. Nathan joined the Southern Health and Social Care Trust in 2017 as a peer support worker and began his Nursing degree a year later. With his experience, Nathan is now leading a relaunch of the peer support in-reach team in the Bluestone unit at Craigavon Hospital. By providing face-to-face emotional support and encouragement through a peer support hub, Nathan is promoting the message that there is hope for recovery. Nathan has developed a range of activities to strengthen the quality of patient care and enhance the compassionate service provided.
Nathan said “The Open University is a fantastic University that provides flexible and accessible education to people from all walks of life. Without The Open University I would not have been able to achieve my mental health nursing degree and for that I am truly thankful. As a mature student with a busy family/work life, I was able to learn and study at my own pace with the fantastic support of The Open University tutors and easily accessible module materials. I am honoured to be part of the OU family and astonished to win The Royal College of Nursing: Chief Nursing Officer - Rising Star Award 2023 just days after graduating. I would encourage anyone who has a dream to become a nurse to study through The Open University pre-registration nursing program, it has changed my life forever.”
Congratulations also go to Dawn Ferguson for winning the Brownlee-Silverdale Leadership Award. As a strong advocate for the nursing profession, Dawn has created and led numerous workforce and education initiatives including working with the Southern Regional College and The Open University to develop a pre-registration nursing programme that will help to better prepare people for a career in health care.
Finally, The Open University are also proud to have sponsored the Learning in Practice Award which recognises the excellent teaching and learning that takes place in a range of acute and community settings in Northern Ireland. Congratulations go to the winner of the award, Julie Baxter, a Deputy Sister in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.