“There is no more satisfying or privileged job than this”

For some, the career they choose comes straight from the heart – and this couldn’t be more the case with Zowie Fussey.

The 40-year-old mum of two from Ulceby, near Grimsby, had always longed for a professional life in nursing but there never seemed to be a right time, until a devastating cancer diagnosis saw her make a promise to herself.

Now, having this summer completed a three-year full-time nursing degree at the University of Hull thanks to financial support from St Hugh’s Hospital, she is preparing to return to work.

“My background is in admin, right from school,” she said. “I’ve worked all my life really, in different office jobs, including the transport industry, and for four years in NHS research and commissioning, on the admin side.

“I enjoyed my time working in research but unfortunately, I got poorly. I got ovarian cancer in 2015. I’d already just left the job because I wasn’t very well, and it was impacting my work but didn’t know what was going on at that point. My husband Jonathan and I had had IVF too, which had failed, so it was all happening at once, and then I got diagnosed.

“I had a radical hysterectomy and chemotherapy, and my care was good in the main, but I also had really bad care – the cancer was missed for years and a lot of what happened to me could have been avoided. I should have just had the tumour removed and I’d have been fine. My oncology surgeon, Mr Giannopoulos, however, was exceptional in both care and support, going above and beyond his call of duty and making a scary time manageable and less daunting with empathy, time, and  understanding. Believe it or not I actually look forward to seeing him and the rest of the oncology team, including Dr Bozas and Caroline, his secretary, and all of the healthcare staff in the department over in Hull!

“So, while I was recovering on the gynae ward at Grimsby where my care was really, really good I told one of the managers that if I stayed in remission for two years, I was going to do a nursing qualification because there is no more satisfying or privileged job than this. I wanted to give good care.”

At home, Zowie was lovingly supported in her recovery by her husband and two sons who were were equally supportive when she kept that promise she’d made to herself in hospital to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. Zowie made special mention of her mum, cousin Jenna and best friend Hayley, along with other wonderful family and friends with too many names to mention for their extra-special love, encouragement and support during her recovery and nurse training. “My cousin Jenna and I both looked into nursing at the same time, Jenna went ahead and started her training. She is now qualifying as an ACP as I qualify as a nurse and is just completing her own Masters. I am so proud of her!

“Going into nursing wasn’t entirely out of the blue,” she explained. “I’d looked into it when my children were young, but it was the wrong time, and once you’re in paid employment it’s so hard to make a decision like that and make that break. So, it was always there but then the recovery became my motivation and made me realise it was what I wanted to do.

“I waited for the two years of remission because I didn’t want to start something I couldn’t continue and applied for a job as a support worker at St Hugh’s Hospital in 2017.

“My then manager, Jan Berry, a wonderful woman, took a chance on me, really, taking on this office girl who came in and applied for a caring role – it was a bit of a leap of faith. I explained why I wanted to be involved in care and what it meant to me, and that I’d always wanted to go into nursing but equally wanted to be sure it was right. I was so grateful for that opportunity, and I was taken on as a support worker with the intention of, if I enjoyed it, being put through my nursing associate training.” Her first day was on June 21, 2017, and Zowie keeps a photo on her phone from that day, showing her uniform and a bag with the slogan ‘Live Your Dream’.

After about a year, she was ready to embark on that training but a discussion with an educator at the University of Hull resulted in Zowie firmly deciding on registered nursing training instead. At that time, there was no secondment available for her at St Hugh’s Hospital, as another member of staff was already completing their own training. Unphased, Zowie withdrew her interest in associate nursing and funded her own A-Level, in biology, to boost her UCAS points while still working.

“I was so pleased I did that,” she said. “It prepared me very well for when I started my degree. I’d gone straight into the menopause after the hysterectomy, and I couldn’t have any HRT, so my brain fog was immense. It made things difficult – even now I struggle with fatigue – but it was fine. And when you’ve been away from education for a while, going back can be a shock to the system!”

But go back she did, taking the leap financially, mentally and everything in between – after a discussion with Liz Oke, head of clinical services at St Hugh’s, she embarked on a three-year course that included a 2300-hour active placement of unpaid work and 4600 hours including study as required by the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) to qualify. She left her position at St Hugh’s but stayed on the support worker bank to help out whenever she could.

“It wasn’t long after I started the course that St Hugh’s rang me with some amazing news,” she said. “The member of staff who’d been on secondment previously had completed her education and was back working, which meant there was room for a new secondment – me!

“They told me how they were now in a position to support me and would backdate it to when I started the degree. I couldn’t believe it!

“The rest is history, really. I covered bank shifts where I could, and then coronavirus hit, and we supported the NHS throughout that. Covid was a bit of a challenge because in practice that was difficult, but we got through it, and it puts you in a good place for your future nursing. We trained and lived through a pandemic and coped well; we turned it on its head and viewed it as a positive.

“Although most of our learning was taught virtually, a new way for the university as well as the students, I was lucky to be part of a fantastic group of people in my cohort, we were known as Group 6. Special mention to new lifelong friends I have made through my training are, said with pride, staff nurses Kerri Anderson and Tamara Partington. Kerri and Mara were a wonderful support and we studied weekly, even wearing masks sitting in my kitchen at times – we stuck together through it all together! We have recently celebrated our achievements with a three-day break in Palma enjoying sunshine and sangria before our new careers begin!”

When we spoke to Zowie, she’d handed in her final dissertation, which she has since informed us she has passed, and was ready for a placement in A&E at Grimsby’s Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital. She will return to St Hugh’s Hospital at the beginning of October.

“I enjoy surgical nursing, so I am really looking forward to going back to St Hugh’s”.

“My whole attitude is about giving good care to patients. I am very interested in research and evidence-based practice, which I wrote my dissertation on, combined with a holistic approach. The patient is at the centre of everything.

“I sometimes think about what would have happened to me without research. My cancer, called granulosa cell, was rare and still is; I am one of the statistics that informs future treatment, because not much was known about it. It doesn’t present like a ‘normal’ tumour.

“I feel really lucky to be back at St Hugh’s it really is like a family there… it’s like coming home”. They have backed me from the very moment I started work there and the team are truly wonderful. Really all I knew when I got the job was how to be nice to people. My colleagues were just unreal; so welcoming, they taught me everything. I know how great it will be to return to such a lovely team who have showed me kindness and support from day one; Ann Chappell, ward sister at the time, and several other nursing staff members really encouraged me to pursue my nursing and believed I could do it.

“Throughout my degree I’ve worked in large NHS hospitals and working at St Hugh’s is very different. Some might say I’m biased but our teams are brilliant. Because we are smaller, it means everyone knows each other and supports each other, and it’s a really nice working environment, which in turn makes the environment better for patients.

“I’ve had patients say ‘You can tell you all like working with each other’ – and we do. It’s so good that this sense of teamwork shows. Going into hospital as a patient, as I well know, can be such an anxious time. No one actually wants to be in hospital and that’s what we all recognise, whether it’s your first time or one visit of many.

“It’s genuinely a lovely place to work, and I’m so grateful that I’ve been supported by the hospital throughout my degree. To nurture local people particularly is, I think, a great thing to do. That’s all about developing and retaining skills in the local area, which is important. I think regardless, I’d have gone back to St Hugh’s anyway, if they’d have had me, because I have a strong allegiance to it. My loyalty is very strong!

“St Hugh’s supported me from day one and still are… that’s just wonderful.” Zowie will soon return as a Registered General Nurse (RGN), and her family are behind her 100 per cent. “

“I am so excited! I really can’t wait!” she added. “I get my blues – my blue uniform – and will do six weeks in all the departments, which sounds really good. I’ll get to see all the different areas… I couldn’t ask for more!”

 My mum supported me throughout my illness and has encouraged me to follow my dream and become a nurse,” she said. “She is my best friend and mum all rolled into one. I am so grateful to my cousin Jenna for her encouragement and support over the years, during and following my illness and throughout my studies. She has been a huge part of my life, all of my life and more like a sister.

“I’d also like to say thanks to the amazing support workers on the ward at St Hugh’s Hospital, namely Jayne, Natalie and Ellie, who taught me everything I needed to

 know and supported me from day one – they are still there, and I can’t wait to work

 with them again and the rest of the nursing team.”