Why did you choose to study at Queen Margaret University (QMU) and what attracted you to the course?

I always had aspirations to pursue a career that involved working with children. After completing my BSc Honours in Nursing at QMU I became aware of the Health Visiting Course. Having previously done a short placement working alongside the health visitors whilst a student nurse, I had some insight into what their roles entailed and I liked the fact that health visitors worked with children up until the age of five, as well as working closely with their families.

I also felt comfortable about the thought of returning to study at QMU as I was familiar with the surroundings there, as well as some of the lecturers. This definitely made the transition onto the Health Visiting course a lot smoother.

What did you enjoy most about your course?

I especially enjoyed being on placement, which makes up 50% of the course. I always personally feel that you learn more effectively during placement as you are able to observe the job and then subsequently put it into practise. I thoroughly enjoyed learning and shadowing the role of the health visitor and instantly knew that I had made the right decision in enrolling on the course.

I also liked that it was a one year course; however, it meant that it was extremely challenging at times as there was a vast amount of learning and coursework to be completed within that time.

Were there any particular course activities you found especially interesting?

I really enjoyed learning about child development and, in particular, how the brain develops in the early stages of life. The child development module was the module I found easiest to relate to in practice as I was constantly observing how children grow and develop from one visit to the next. I find it fascinating how quickly children learn. I also found the child protection module interesting as it was a topic completely new to me and I realised how relevant it would be to me as a health visitor.

How did your lecturers support your learning?

The lecturers were able to support our learning through their vast knowledge of health visiting. Each student is allocated a Personal Academic Tutor (PAT). This provides each student with the opportunity to liaise with their PAT for further support if required, or to talk through an assignment. I found it very useful to have a PAT as you felt well supported and knew you had your own specific contact you could go to for assistance.

What challenges did you face with the course and/or university life? How did you overcome them?

The course was a massive learning curve for me as my only previous experience was working within an adult nursing environment. The main aspect of the Health Visiting course was children and their health, development and wellbeing. I found that being on placement helped me to learn about child development through physically observing them during family visits as well as gaining valuable knowledge from my practice teacher who was able to explain their development in greater detail. The child development module we studied was extremely in depth and thorough, which made this easier.

I also found balancing home life and the vast amount of university work and assignments a lot more challenging than I initially anticipated. In order to make this manageable I made sure I worked every night after placement in order to allow myself a short period off at the weekends.

Did you take part in a placement as part of your course and if so, can you tell us about your experience?

Yes, the practice placement accounted for 50% of the course. In the first semester I attended placement two times per week, whereas the second and third semester I was full time (five days per week). Every student is allocated a practice teacher, a qualified health visitor, who has undergone further teaching to educate health visiting students. In the first semester I shadowed my practice teacher and observed all of her visits. It is really valuable to be able to observe these visits as it allows you to take the time to learn the role of the health visitor, and understand the universal health pathway. It also allows you to identify the diversity of the community you are working within and recognise the various health needs of families you work with.

During the second semester, though some students start at the end of semester one, you begin to slowly build your own caseload of families and start to visit them independently. During this time you are still supported by your practice teacher and the health visiting team. This semester allows you to build confidence when visiting families and gain knowledge from questions asked by them. Semester two made me appreciate that each family has different circumstances, which in turn, meant that no two visits were the same. Semester two allows you to manage your diary and prioritise your workload.

By the third semester I had a small caseload which I managed independently. It was my role to continually assess the wellbeing needs of families and ensure the child always remained at the centre of everything I did, in line with the frameworks used by health visitors such as Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC). Semester three provided insight into how I would manage the role as a health visitor when I qualified.

During my placement I had supervision with my practice teacher on a weekly basis which allowed me to write a short reflection on the previous week that I could then discuss with her. This was really beneficial as it allowed me to learn from situations that had arisen and be aware of the positive aspects that had occurred over the last week. I think having supervision on a weekly basis was vital and allowed me to feel supported and have a safe space to raise any concerns I had.

Do you have any advice for students who might be interested in this course?

If you are looking to start this course, you should go for it, as it’s worth all the hard work in the end! Being a health visitor is a really enjoyable and rewarding job, although it has it challenges, but what job doesn’t? The course is tough and requires you to sacrifice a lot of your own personal time at nights and weekends which can be challenging, however, it is definitely worth the rewards. I would advise that anyone doing the course starts assignments early. It can be easy to fall behind with assignments, especially in semester two. I always ensured I started assignments as early as possible so that the coursework was manageable.

What University services did you use to support you through your university journey and how did they help you?

I used the Effective Learning Service. This service proof read one of my assignments and provided advice and feedback on the structure of my work. This was a really helpful service as writing at masters level is different compared with essays written at undergraduate level. I would definitely recommend this service to everyone.

What’s your ‘top tip’ for making the most of being a student?

Make sure you use your student card to get good discount! Enjoy being a student and take the time to learn, especially observing during visits whilst on placement as it doesn’t take long before your carrying out visits on your own! Get to know others in your class as they are a good support as you will all likely be going through the same motions during the course. It’s also always great to share and discuss your learning with others.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned at university?

The most valuable lesson I learned at university and placement was how lucky I had been to have a ‘normal’ childhood. The course really opened my eyes to the poverty that is present in Edinburgh and the unfortunate lifestyles that some children live. This made me more determined to complete the course in order to work with families as a health visitor and support them where possible, making a difference to both the children and their families alike.

Can you tell us about your life post-graduation?

It has been a strange time finishing the course due to COVID-19. We didn’t get to have the graduation ceremony, which was scheduled for July 2020, which was a real shame as it would have been a nice opportunity to see all my colleagues and friends from the course. The positive aspect of COVID-19 for me has been that because our visits are now limited, we are all now more office based which is a great support when newly qualified as it allows everyone in the team to share ideas.

I was very lucky to be given a job in the same team where I completed my placement. I appreciated this as I already knew my families quite well from when I was a student and I was able to further develop relationships with them. I am working at Gracemount and am part of a great team who are all very supportive. My main aim within the next year is to hopefully complete the child protection modules and potentially think about doing my dissertation.

I am really enjoying my new job as a health visitor and would encourage anyone thinking of doing it to go for it!



"I especially enjoyed being on placement, which makes up 50% of the course. I always personally feel that you learn more effectively during placement as you are able to observe the job and then subsequently put it into practice."
Ellen Syrett

[Story published in 2020]