After graduating with a degree in psychology and getting an office job, Gemma decided to change career and joined the British Army as a nurse - after gaining the necessary qualifications and serving for nearly six years, she's now progressed to corporal
Tell us about your role and what you do.
Once I left university, I managed to get a job in a solicitors' office. However, I soon realised that working 9-5 in an office was not for me.
I decided that I wanted to be a nurse in the Army because I wanted to help people, and other British soldiers. I was also drawn to the adventure of deployments abroad and the challenge of nursing in different environments.
How did you find the initial training?
I completed 14 weeks' Phase 1 training at Army Training Regiment (ATR) Pirbright. I enjoyed basic training, and I knew I'd made the right career choice for me. I liked the challenge, I learned new skills and my confidence grew.
I then completed a degree in adult nursing at Birmingham City University. The Army provided lots of academic and clinical support while learning and on placements at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. I had never worked in a hospital before, so it was a bit daunting at first, but everyone was incredibly supportive.
In what ways has the Army trained and prepared you for your role?
I had completed my first year of the preceptorship programme at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, just before the first wave of the COVID 19 pandemic broke out.
I was on call six days a week and would work on wards that were short of staff due to staff isolating or sickness. I found myself working in clinical areas such as the emergency department (ED), critical care unit (CCU), respiratory high care, liver, and orthopaedic wards.
Every shift was different, and I learned a great deal. Just by being there as an extra pair of hands, I relieved some of the pressure from my NHS colleagues. It felt good being a part of it and getting to use my skills to help. It meant the patients received the level of care they would expect to receive if we were not in a pandemic.
During the second wave, I was completing my elective placement within the intensive therapy unit (ITU). My military and NHS ITU colleagues were incredibly supportive, and we had weekly clinical supervision and training. They also gave one-to-one teaching at the patients' bedsides, which developed my skills and confidence whilst working in ITU.
We also worked alongside the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service. They would help with turning patients, which dramatically relieved pressure from ITU staff, as 'proning' a patient with COVID-19 requires five or six people.
The Royal Artillery also provided gunners to help as porters. It was a great experience collaborating with other services at a time when hospital staff were most stretched.
Is there anything that has surprised you along your journey?
The camaraderie between you and your colleagues makes nursing in the Army different. You work together, live together, and share experiences together that you otherwise would not.
My most memorable experience was during my second year at university. A group of us volunteered with the SAVE (Safeguard for Agricultural Varieties in Europe) Foundation, to teach English to children at a school in a township in Cape Town. It was an amazing experience working with the children, their teachers, and volunteers from other nations.
Volunteering made me appreciate how much we take for granted as an affluent country. In our downtime my colleagues and I went skydiving, shark cage diving, hiked to the top of Table Mountain, went on safaris, and visited Robben Island in Table Bay. It was an incredible four weeks.
What other opportunities have you got to experience?
Outside of work we're given opportunities to take part in adventure training. While in Portsmouth we got to go sea kayaking, surfing or standup paddleboarding (SUP).
I had never done any of those things before, but enjoyed them so much I bought a board and now go down to the beach, lake, or rivers in my free time with my colleagues. It's a great fun and social activity.
I would advise anyone considering nursing to apply with the British Army. There are so many opportunities to work as a nurse or soldier.
Find out more
- Consider other armed forces careers.
- Discover the benefits of making a career change.
- Explore how to become a regular officer in the Army.