Blog post

Mental health nursing student Alex reveals his secret

By Alex Balcon - 17 February 2022

The secret ...

“Mr Balcon, is there anything you’d like to add?”

I sit in a congested clinic room. Populated with an armoury of mental health specialists. Junior doctors, psychologists, nurses and, of course, me ... Mr Balcon. Ward rounds, they call it. An experience I have become all too familiar with as a patient.

Only, this question isn’t presented to me for my opportunity to objectively express factors where I believe I am fit enough for society. Because this ward rounds is not about me. Why, then, is my opinion wanting to be included?

The reason? I am part of that armoury of mental health specialists. In just shy of two years, I will be a qualified Mental Health Nurse. From requiring care to delivering it. A journey that seemed impossible to friends and family. My secret? An application I sent to the University of Derby.

From mental health patient to student mental health nurse

I always interpreted a career in nursing to be nothing but a fantasy for individuals like me. A hopeless pipedream for an underachiever. Even the mere mention of pursuing a degree would be countered with ridicule from those closest to me. Degrees, I was constantly told, were only an acquirable qualification for those gifted with congenital intelligence and the ability to retain large amounts of information effortlessly. I, unfortunately, possessed none of those qualities.

The other contributing factor in the delay of applying to study for my dream job were that ... I am a man. There’s a perception that nursing is a predominantly female role, and it was this perception I (shamefully) believed for a short period of time. The thing is, I already owned the mandatory inherent qualities needed to be an effective nurse. Gender plays no role in how empathetic and person centred you are.

I knew I had a significant lifechanging decision to make. Security and survival mode became mundane. Failure to leave my comfort zone left me uninterested in nearly all elements of my life. Life had given me my unfair share of challenges, and it was these challenges I would blame for my lack of accomplishments. I yearned to deliver the same quality of care I had received and provide people with the greatest gift outside of love. Hope.

Had I continued down the path of being noticeably unexceptional, you wouldn’t be reading this blog. You wouldn’t be able to have seen the relief on my face for finally grasping Harvard Referencing. The handshake I received from my lecturer on obtaining a high grade on a demanding assignment. The tears of pride shed from my parents as I joyfully wear my nursing uniform for the first time. But, above all, you wouldn’t be able to see me smiling every morning as I make my journey to Kedleston Road. Each day another step closer to fulfilling that "hopeless pipedream for an underachiever".

The importance of a supportive teaching team

Even though praise and compliments are very welcome, I cannot accept comments suggesting that this was a solitary effort. Even entertaining the idea would be massively offensive to the nurse teaching team at the University of Derby.

If it hasn’t already become apparent, I have complex needs. I require more attention than the majority of my mature student peers. Therefore, I was offered and I accepted a care plan. To correspond with this, my lecturers have provided me with many tear-filled tutorials during all hours of the day. Their ability to renew my enthusiasm when I lose sight of why I want to be a nurse. Their high levels of empathy during the black dog days. Their endless patience over my many, many emails and the reassurance that I do have the ability to do this degree.

The most beautiful thing about the lecturers, however, is none of these inspiring factors. The most beautiful thing is that I do not receive any preferential treatment. This industrious dedication does not apply to me and myself alone. Somehow, they manage to offer all their learners with this level of commitment. All 300 nursing students in my cohort alone.

The main focus of this blog is to provoke an inner fire within you. To get you to choose the University of Derby. Originally, I would state facts of why, I believe, you should join our university. But that wouldn’t work for me, and probably not for you. So my revised objective is to get you to an Open Day. I say with absolute confidence, my university will do the rest.

About the author

Alex wearing his nursing uniform, standing, smiling.

Alex Balcon

I'm Alex and I'm a Stage Two Mental Health Nurse student. My passions consist of: piano (I'm awful at), goalkeeper (yet to keep a clean sheet), poetry (never had a poem with more than five likes on Facebook), the odd tipple (lightweight), reading (bad memory), watching football (I support Rotherham United...). Things I'm good at: World of Warcraft.