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Q&A with Mark Crothers

28 Apr 2023

Mark Crothers is in the final year of an Adult Nursing degree with the Open University (OU), works as a health care support worker (HCSW) with Cardiff and the Vale health board, and has recently become a member of the RCN Wales Board.

Mark Crothers, RCN Wales Board member

Tell us how you got into nursing?

When I was in school, I hung around with the “wrong people”. I was assaulted as a teenager and it shook me up. I decided I didn’t want to do a degree because I was anxious being around too many people, so I started working with children in an after school club. It wasn’t feasible as a career because of the poor hours and pay, but I loved caring, so I moved to working in a residential care home.

Whilst taking a resident to a hospital appointment, I overheard the ambulance driver talking about a nursing course where you could learn on the job. I had no idea where to start looking but knew I had to be in the NHS, so I applied to be a HCSW. [My manager] didn’t know about the course, but I found the practice development nurse who did training needs analysis with me. I went to the open day, completed an application, got shortlisted, attended an interview, and secured a job! It was a long journey over a couple of years, but I got there.


It’s great to have a nursing student on the RCN Wales Board! Tell us about your journey to this position.

As a HCSW, before I got onto the nursing course, I was put forward as ambassador for clinical gerontology for my health board and I helped organise and participated in a support worker forum. I always wanted to do more. I was always the loud person in the team saying, “this should be different, we should do more”. My voice wasn’t really heard; nobody would listen. But I want to be heard and I want to change things; I’m aspiring to make a change in the nursing profession and my ambition has no cap.

I was approached a couple of times to be an RCN student ambassador or a rep, but it never felt like the right time. I needed to deal with some difficult issues in my personal life and now I’ve come back in a much stronger position. I applied for the RCN Wales Board but missed out by a small number of votes. Helen Whyley, RCN Wales Director, approached me to do a spoke placement with the RCN; I was the first student in Wales to ever do that. It was brilliant. I did that with Michelle Moseley, Education and Lifelong Learning Adviser at RCN Wales, who also had a secondment in the Welsh government so I was able to meet the Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) for Wales. Then the opportunity came up to apply for RCN Wales Board again for the full four-year term. I went for it and was elected unopposed.


You said that you’re aspiring to make a positive change in the nursing profession; what do you hope to achieve as a student and Board member?

Nursing students are not heard, and at times their supernumerary status is abused, and their learning neglected. I am an advocate and I’m happy to stand up for other nursing students and for myself. Whenever I have been asked to help in a situation that benefits the employer, rather than my learning – and goes against my supernumerary status – I put my foot down and say, “no, I’m here to learn and that is not what’s legal”. And they listen and it works. But there are so many young nurses that don’t have the life experience, or are anxious, and they don’t stand up for themselves. I’ve been working with the Education, Culture and Organisational Development team within my health board to speak up for nursing students more.


Tell us a bit about studying nursing through the OU.

As a HCSW my contract is for 37.5 hours per week, with 15 hours working as a HCSW. Originally my health board suggested I work two 7.5 hour shifts per week, but I requested to work one 12 hour shift per week and an additional 12 hour shift in every four weeks, which the health board agreed to and has proved to work well.

The remaining 22.5 hours, I am seconded as a student and that’s when I complete my theory and practical modules, which overlap.

In terms of the structure, I have two overlapping modules; theory followed by practice. The theory hours are completed at home and for the practice module I’ll have a placement, usually within my health board. The placements are the same as with any other nursing degree and include acute, surgical, medical, community, etc.

The OU works on a “quality over quantity” basis and as such gives very concise word counts. My dissertation equivalent was only 3,000 words. Personally, I think this reflects when I’m working in health care – when writing notes under time pressure, I need to choose what the crucial information is and document that.

I believe the OU is funded from the health board and Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) and it works on the basis of how many positions are commissioned. I get paid my band 2 salary in retrospect and am still protected by my working rights, such as annual leave and sick pay.

Learning through the OU is so flexible and I think has been beneficial to me personally.


What are some highlights from your time as a nursing student so far?

My spoke placement with the RCN. It was very interesting to see how everything works from a professional body viewpoint, as well as on the trade union side. I think a lot of RCN members don’t realise what their membership really stands for and I’d encourage them to look into a bit more. I spent some time with RCN Direct and I now have a very thorough understanding of how cases are dealt with. Also, the opportunity to attend a Welsh government meeting and meet the CNO was eye-opening.

My placements in Cardiff and the Vale health board have been fantastic throughout. I’ve had exposure to very acute situations, and I am allowed to work more autonomously (with supervision). This has particularly helped me on my management placement, and I think it’s brilliant that I have that rapport with my supervisor and assessor.


What’s something you’ve found challenging?

Organising two rotas throughout the last four years! That can be difficult at times. And I’ve found myself in situations where I’ve had to test my resilience and my emotional intelligence more than most at times. My life outside work hasn’t been so easy and I have to find it within myself not to bring that into work – it isn’t always possible and I have to continuously reflect on myself professionally as well as personally.


What would you say to someone who’s considering joining the nursing profession?

For anyone joining the nursing profession or for those who are thinking about choosing nursing, don’t let the media or anything else deter you. Give it a go and keep fighting. It’s not for everyone, but if it is for you, you will get there – there’s light at the end of the tunnel. And the trade unions are putting in significant effort with the government at the moment with safe staffing, patient safety and nursing pay. Join us!


What’s next for you after university?

Takeover! I don’t want to be a Band 5 nurse all my life – I want to go as far as I can. I just want to make health care a better place for everyone. It’s about patient safety, public safety, staff safety – safety for everyone.


Anything else you’d like to add?

Yes. Join the OU, become a nurse, and join the RCN!

Page last updated - 26/09/2023