International Nurses Day 2022: Celebrating Herts Uni student who overcame challenges to become a nurse

Karen Harris, is a third-year children’s nursing student at the University of Hertfordshire.

Karen Harris, a third-year children’s nursing student at the University of Hertfordshire, that has overcome many challenges to learn to be a nurse. - Credit: Karen Harris

As part of International Nurses Day, we are commemorating some of our local nurses and students who have dedicated their lives to helping others. 

Mum of three Karen Harris is an inspiring third-year children’s nursing student at the University of Hertfordshire, whose studying comes with its challenges but she believes it has been empowering to make a career change and stimulating to the brain cells to learn new things at a later stage of her life. 

“Learning to be a nurse is not just about learning clinical skills and how to care for sick people, it's about learning to understand people without judgement, how to communicate, how to have empathy. I think learning and respecting these skills has made a real impact on my professional and personal growth. 

“I often find myself reflecting on situations, such as having an encounter with someone in a shop who seems very unengaged or a little bit rude. I now ask myself, ‘I wonder what is happening in their life today to make them feel that way?’ and I don’t think I did that before I trained to become a nurse,” Karen said. 

Karen’s husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 bowel cancer at the end of 2017 and until then, she had been a stay-at-home mum. As the prognosis was not positive, she wanted to find a fulfilling career so that she could provide for her children once her husband had passed.  

“I couldn’t go back to the office job I had done pre-children; I just didn’t feel like being stuck in an office was going to do it for me. My sister and my step-mum are both nurses and I had always felt that their jobs were so much more interesting than mine, and as it turns out I was correct! 

“Sadly, my husband died in March 2020 but experiencing the family-centred care we received during his illness has really motivated my desire to become a nurse, and to be able to support people in the same way we were,” Karen added. 

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Karen won the Dean’s Award in 2021 for Professionalism, Employability and Enterprise. “I think my greatest achievement, quite frankly, has been getting to the point where I’m almost qualified! With a significant bereavement, the pandemic and raising three children sometimes I think it’s a miracle that I’ve got this far,” she said. 

Karen not only wants to be able to provide for her children but also wants them to see how hard she works to achieve her goals, despite the hardship and hopes to inspire them to do the same as well. 

“My family are very important - my sister and my step mum especially have been the biggest support for me in my nursing studies and I am so very grateful to them. Professionally I think the people I meet within the NHS motivate me.  

Karen not only wants to be able to provide for her children but also wants them to see how hard she works to achieve her goal

Karen not only wants to be able to provide for her children but also wants them to see how hard she works to achieve her goals, despite the hardship and hopes to inspire them to do the same as well. - Credit: Karen Harris

“The NHS gets a hard time, and it is understandable when we think about how underfunded and under resourced it is, but the people make the NHS great! Every nurse I’ve met has a deep-rooted desire to make people’s lives better and that is what it comes down to. There is a shared goal of wanting to help people, and that will always motivate me.". 

Speaking about getting into nursing, Karen added: “It’s not easy, the studying is intense, shifts are long, and the breaks are short! It’s a serious job to be accountable for people’s health and well-being and that can feel a bit scary, but I’ve never had a job where there has been a bigger sense of identity, community and belonging.”