Life at uni after life in the workforce
Like many non-school leavers looking for a new career direction, Andy Trafford came to ACU with a plan. He’s since graduated and begun working in mental health nursing which is right where he wants to be.
“The biggest challenge of my studies was trying to balance a social life, family, uni and placements. It wasn’t easy,” Andy said. “And being a non-school leaver and still having to work, pay my mortgage, pay the bills and not live at home meant studying was a big thing for me. I had to be super organised and on top of things.”
A natural fit
Andy was first drawn to ACU because he knew the university’s nursing graduates had a great reputation.
“My biggest thing was the professional regard ACU nurses have in the community. And when you look at the numbers, it seemed like people graduating from ACU were getting the jobs I wanted. Plus, I just loved the feel of the campus. I liked its smaller size and knew I wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.”
Andy said he’s always been drawn to the health industry and nursing was a natural fit.
“I attained various certificates in fitness when I was a teenager because I loved learning how the body works and later on I became a first-aid instructor. Friends used to tell me I would often light up any time I used to talk about anything medical.
“Then, during my studies, biology was a favourite subject and I even worked as a PASS (Peer Assisted Study Sessions) leader so I could help other students.”
Before his Bachelor of Nursing began, Andy had spent many years up in the air.
“I was a flight attendant, a cabin crew supervisor and then a cabin crew instructor for an airline. But one of the reasons why I wanted to move into nursing is I wanted a recession-proof job.”
While Andy admits he sometimes misses his life in the sky, the COVID-19 crisis reaffirmed he made the right choice.
“So many people lost their jobs with no fallback. And you realise how much aviation is influenced by things out of your control like fuel prices, not to mention a global pandemic. Having a recession-proof job like nursing has made me feel so much more secure.
“I also wanted a career I could still travel with and would give me the ability to move anywhere and do anything nursing related. I just loved the amount of pathways nursing offers.
"There are so many avenues to explore, whether you want to do the hands-on nursing or go into clinical research or management, teaching and education, whatever you want. These choices really appealed to me.
“Plus, I was already familiar with shift work and being on my feet all day – my years in aviation absolutely prepared me for this side of nursing!”
Older and wiser
Like many non-school leavers, deciding to return to study was a big endeavour for Andy and he wasn’t about to waste time before diving in.
“I studied when I first left school, but I found that this time around I certainly put more effort in because now I knew this would be my future career.
“All of the other non-school leavers were like me – more focused and more sure of what we were doing. Being a little older, you figured out who to hang around with quite quickly. I also found it really helpful to set up a study group with likeminded non-school leaver students. I learnt that when it was a group of us together, we got a lot more quality study done.
“We’d bounce ideas off each other and try to get the same tutorials and pracs together so we could debrief afterwards. Then we’d celebrate our wins and go out for drinks and dinner to celebrate finishing the semester or a prac. But we all knew we were investing in ourselves by doing this degree. I think, being older, you value education a little more.”
Andy’s advice for other people thinking about studying as a non-school leaver? Go slow.
“If you’re a bit hesitant, start part-time. Even if it’s just one or two subjects to ease into study life again. But once you’ve made the decision to go back to uni, go back. Strike while the iron is hot.”
Andy’s other tip is find support.
“The biggest thing for me was realising all the help that’s available on campus. I found the Student Support Services team and the advisors from the Academic Skills Unit so helpful with both online and face-to-face support. I learnt they ran all kinds of workshops for things such as referencing and they’d sit down with you to offer guidance on your work and help you out. I made sure I told other students about them too as it made such a difference for me.
“And I know this is very non-school leaver of me, but I was super organised. As soon as unit outlines came out, I was on it. I would print them out and immediately create online folders divided into weeks so I was ready to file my lecture and tutorial notes.
“I also took notes using pen and paper. I’m terrible at typing and writing things down helped make what I was learning stick.
“Being organised right from the first few weeks of the semester was key, as well as making a head start on assessments, otherwise you’re just chasing your tail.”
Finding his place
After completing his Bachelor of Nursing in 2020, Andy has happily been working in mental health.
“I’m in a large tertiary hospital now – my first choice. Though I admit I put all of my eggs in one basket to get this job. Other friends from uni applied for lots of different roles in all sorts of places. When applications closed, I had to admit I had only applied for one. I thought, ‘Oh no, what have I done?’. But it all worked out splendidly!”
Mental health placements were always Andy’s favourite when he was still studying and he’s confident he made the right choice.
“At uni, my mental health placements were in a medium-secure ward and then community mental health. I also really enjoyed my time in a cognitive assessment management unit. This was for older people who had come from residential care or nursing homes and were experiencing a decline in their cognition.
“I liked sitting down with them and you could dedicate more time getting to know them as a person. This is what I’ve always liked about working in mental health and doing talk-based therapy.
“The people are generally medically well and you get to really interact with them and get to know their story.”
The male factor
Often being the only man on the ward, while unconventional, has never been a problem for Andy.
“Aviation was the same. I don’t know anything different and have always worked in jobs where women outnumber the men.
“Sometimes being a male nurse is a bit of a novelty and it works in my favour. When you introduce yourself to a patient and say, ‘I’m the RN for the day’, it’s a talking point and they want to know my backstory as well.
“It opens up a bit of conversation. You can relate to the male patients a lot better and they feel more comfortable too.
“But I admit I have had issues in the past and some female patients don’t want to work with me. It could be a cultural reason or it’s their age.
“I just speak to them to find out why and let them know I’ll do my best to come up with a solution. But I listen to their grievances and let them know sometimes it can’t be helped. Mostly I’m able to talk them around and make them feel comfortable. So, my advice for other men thinking about nursing is just do it!”
Making a difference
Ask Andy if he thinks he’s making a difference to others as a mental health nurse and his answer will always be a resounding, “Yes, absolutely.” He’s currently in a transition to specialty program and thinking a Master of Mental Health Nursing is in his future. But, for now, he’s right where he wants to be.
“Simply sitting down with someone, it could be for five minutes, 10 minutes, maybe even half an hour, sometimes they just want to be heard, that’s all it is.
“Once they talk to you and get to express how they’re feeling, they’re so grateful. This is why I was drawn to mental health. We constantly have to apply critical thinking for the entire shift, but I love what I do.”
If you’re interested in a career like Andy’s, explore our nursing degrees.