Julie Plenderleith

"I carried on for my dad to make him proud" says graduate nurse Julie Plenderleith. 

From an early age, Julie Plenderleith was already fascinated with health. “As a child I would read over and over my parents’ home doctor books, intrigued with all the medical conditions,” she says. 

She never let go of this interest, and at the age of 49 she became a qualified nurse thanks to the support of The Open University (OU).

Julie decided to finally fulfil her childhood ambition of becoming a nurse when she saw first-hand the care her father received when he unfortunately became critically ill in hospital.

“My dad became unwell with bowel cancer, and while recovering post-operation in hospital he became unwell and suffered six cardiac arrests over a space of a few hours. My dad was transferred to the intensive care unit where he was put into a coma and a hypothermic state,” she explains. “Through watching my dad in this condition in ICU and the nurses caring for him was where I decided I wanted to be a nurse.”

After her parent made a full recovery, Julie began her journey to becoming a nurse by starting as a nursing assistant in an acute stroke unit. 

‘The OU tutors were always only ever an email or a phone call away’

Over the next three years, Julie gained “valuable skills which would help for the day I became a registered nurse” and learnt about the OU Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Adult Nursing degree from her line manager. She recommends studying with the OU to other health care assistants who want to become a nurse, whatever their age.

As a working single parent to three children, she welcomed the flexibility of studying with the OU, allowing her to work full-time and study, and avoiding the need for extra childcare because the tutorials were online and could be completed at home.

Julie found adapting to learning independently initially difficult, but “through my determination and many days of doubting myself, I focused solely on the degree and would set aside my days off work as when I would complete my studies and assignments. The course work can be challenging, however, the support I received from the OU tutors was excellent. They were always only ever an email or a phone call away.”

‘I felt so emotional it was the end of four challenging years’

The challenges and skills acquired though nursing in a global pandemic will stay with me forever.”

Julie had to overcome several challenges on her journey to becoming a nurse. She explains: “Unfortunately, life threw a cruel twist of fate halfway through my studies, as my dad again became unwell and was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour in his brain. He fought a very brave battle, one I am so proud of him for, and he sadly passed away 20 weeks later just after the human biology exam.”

She felt like giving up on her studies, and at the time felt “how could I go on while mourning my beloved dad? The man was my hero.” It was Julie’s line manager that advised her not to give up “as that would not be what my dad wanted. I carried on for my dad to make him proud.”

She was also to face the unprecedented situation in her final study year of dealing with a global pandemic. She was given the opportunity to become a band 4 student staff nurse to help with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The challenges and skills acquired though nursing in a global pandemic will stay with me forever,” she says. “Coursework did not stop through the pandemic, as I was still to complete and submit my dissertation and final exam.”

As well as submitting her dissertation, Julie also spent the summer studying for her final exam, which was now online due to the pandemic. “I decided to sit the exam in the seminar room on the ward at work so to ensure I had no distractions and make it as near as possible to an exam-like environment. Walking out of the room that day I felt so emotional. It was the end of four challenging years, but I was walking out with my head held high with pride and gained again an excellent pass mark.”

Thank you OU Scotland for helping mould me into the professional nurse I am today.”

Despite all of the challenges she had to overcome, the Kilmarnock nurse was awarded a 2:1 for her nursing degree and is now a staff nurse in the stroke ward she began as a nursing assistant at the start of her nursing career. 

“The day I walked into the ward as Staff Nurse Plenderleith was so emotional,” Julie shares. “Seeing my colleagues lined-up ringing the bells to celebrate the day with me will live with me forever…I wish my dad had been alive to see me graduate and become a nurse, as he would have been so proud of me”. 

The nursing graduate is now considering completing a Masters and would like to eventually become an OU Scotland nursing tutor, “guiding future student nurses to achieve their dream”.

“Every day I feel so proud to be a part of the OU in Scotland graduate family. I have overcome every obstacle thrown at me and grew into the nurse I was born to be. Thank you OU in Scotland for helping mould me into the professional nurse I am today,” Julie adds. “Dreams do come true. In the words of the famous quote ‘She believed she could, so she did’. That's me.”