NELFT Talks… Patrick Onyema shares his nursing associate journey | NELFT Talks

NELFT Talks… Patrick Onyema shares his nursing associate journey | NELFT Talks

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Read the latest NELFTtalks blogs from our stakeholders where they will be sharing their views on recent developments at NELFT and sharing advice on a range of topics.

NELFT Talks… Patrick Onyema shares his nursing associate journey

Hello, my name is Patrick Onyema. I am a proud member of staff at NELFT, a proud student of the Anglia Ruskin University, the humble course rep of the Huggins group and a Dementia Friend.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity share my journey with you. It all started when I migrated to the UK and was pursuing a Law degree.  I remember having a conversation with my father about the meaning of a dream job. He said “any job you are willing to do for free can be a dream job”. It was at that moment I decided to follow my health care dream.

I joined EPUT in December 2014 and by 2015 I was awarded Employee of the Year for the unregistered nurse category. At that time I wanted to support people with dementia at different stages in their own journey so applied for a job in the dementia crisis support team. During the interview I was focused on quality improvement and career progression. I was successful and began working for NELFT in 2016.

In 2017 I completed my QI facilitator training and started a project on "reducing the use of antipsychotics for people with dementia in care homes". I was challenged by the chief executive at the time, John Brouder, to continue to develop myself and keep the momentum going during my graduation from the NELFT QI facilitator's programme.

I have received a Make a Difference award twice and went on to win the overall Quality Improvement category at the annual awards in 2018.  I was invited for a poster presentation at the Dementias 2018 conference in London and also became a NELFT health and wellbeing ambassador. In that same year I completed my QI mentorship training and became a mentor. I was also invited to present my project at the 2018 Alzheimer's Europe conference in Barcelona and the trip was made possible thanks to NELFT and support from Dr Qazi, Dr Kiss and all my wonderful colleagues in the Dementia Crisis Support Team, Brentwood.  As a result of winning first place for my poster, I was given a free invitation to the Dementias UK 2019 conference in London.

I also joined my other Ethnic Minority Network colleagues in claiming the Trust’s award for outstanding achievement award for our contributions to the Windrush event.

Then came the tweet from Mog Heraghty, the associate director of nursing at NELFT, telling my followers on Twitter to inform me about the next round of nursing associate applications. At this point I still wasn’t sure if it was what I needed or if I'd be able to juggle family life and university life being a father of two very young children. But, thanks to the support of my family and Marie Elsie, I'm here today.

After a series of tests and interviews I was very fortunate to have been selected by NELFT for the Nursing Associate Programme. Ever since starting at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford I have been very impressed with the course content, structure and delivery. I have been particularly pleased with the way technology has been used to make learning a simple process. This meant I could study anywhere with ease.

The knowledge I have gained and am still gaining has been eye opening and I can now see the reasoning behind many of the things I did as a health care assistant. I now not only know what it means for a person’s blood pressure to be high or low, but also how the structure and function of the heart affects this. I can also tell my patient the meaning of systole and diastole and what is happening in their heart during these stages.

My skills sessions have given me the opportunity to practice in a simulated environment with highly experienced tutors and nurses. The skills sessions also gave me that safe environment to make mistakes and learn from them while paying attention to even the smallest and important parts of caring for a person. Like one of my tutors Kim would say, "the contents of a bed pan can tell you a lot about your patient".

These sessions so far have taught me to focus on patient independence, assessing one's mental capacity and all its related principles, consent and communication using the VERA framework and this is just the first year! More importantly, I now see the person holistically.

I can tell Mrs Blogs how a urinary tract infection may contribute to a worsening of the behaviour of her husband and not necessarily deterioration in his dementia; the point where physical health meets mental health.

I can save costs to the NHS from hospital admissions for UTI by simply encouraging that person with dementia to drink more fluids, all while working within the parameters of the supervised nursing associate and practicing the 6Cs.


Seeing a person holistically was the reason I joined the Nursing Associate Programme.


I have been very lucky to have worked with fantastic qualified nurses (both adult nursing and mental health) and they have taught me the importance of balancing a person’s social needs and their physical and mental health needs.


By the way, they were the inspiration for my change idea in the earlier mentioned QI project. The project was mainly about drawing the carer’s attention to the other, sometimes less obvious, needs of a person with dementia for example constipation and pain which could be causing a change in behaviour thereby encouraging a non-pharmaceutical approach.


As a trainee nursing associate, I was a welcome addition to my practice area on my return for my first placement and I am already bridging that gap between the registered nurses and the healthcare assistants.


Various learning opportunities have been made available to me and I have been given supervised responsibilities which have freed up time for my assessors and colleagues. My skills in venepuncture and ECG have been put to good use during my placement.


My very first task on return was to take and observe how referrals were accepted into the team, a role I was going to be performing for the first time. I recall sharing some of my improvement ideas with my assessor after completing the task and we found out through some suggested changes, how we could reduce the amount of time needed for screening, which equated to patients getting seen on time, reduced waiting times and improved patient experience


During my first placement at NELFT, my coach invited me to join her for an assessment. She said she would like me get some more medical history from the relatives of the patient and help discuss other services available to them in the community while she spoke to the patient. She commented that she would have spent a long time writing up the assessment for the patient if I was not there to help.


I have to be honest, there have been some challenges too.


Apart from the yellow epaulettes that need some time for people to get used to, I have struggled mentally to fully fit into this new identity and accept all the responsibilities that come with it and I think a lot still has to be done in telling others what the new role is.


Also there has been a struggle to stay focused while trying to meet the expectations of being a husband, a dad, an employee and a friend.


Coming back to university every two weeks to meet up and share placement stories and experiences with my colleagues have made the journey easier.  When it seems like things are getting too much to handle, I sit and play the piano knowing I have a course tutor Sam and my NELFT manager Adjoa who are ready to listen, support and point me in the right direction.


I am pleased to share that I have achieved all A's in all three of my recent exams.


I am also the Anglia Ruskin nursing associate representative for the new NMC Standards for Student Supervision and Assessment (SSSA initiative), a part of the NMC consultation for approving the course in Anglia Ruskin.  I am the course representative of the cohort that includes students from other Trusts.


I am now working on a document for my NELFT healthcare assistant colleagues which will include a summary of my bio-science lectures on the various body systems with their functions and structures. I decided to do this after a brief discussion with Mog during the nursing associate event in Essex. Mog challenged me to do this after I told her "I wished I had known half of what I know now as a health care assistant". I hope this will inspire a health care assistant in NELFT to develop their career.


Once again I'm grateful for this opportunity to share my story, for the opportunity given to me by NELFT to progress in my career and develop myself. Indeed the strength of any organisation is in the development of the least powerful person in it.


I'm grateful for the opportunity to be part of the history of Essex today and the opportunity to learn with some of the best and brightest minds I have seen. Thank you for believing in me.



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