Posted Tuesday 3 August 2021
In July 2020, mum-of-three Nicole Pantony who had been put on the furlough scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic seized the opportunity to go back to full-time education to study social work - a path she had been longing to pursue. A last-minute application to Kingston University through the Clearing process secured her a place.
The 29 year old, from Dorking in Surrey, started her academic journey in paramedic science when her first child was just two years old. She enjoyed the clinical aspect of the course but found it difficult to juggle the placements with looking after her first-born and wanted to be more involved in the full patient journey.
"I found it hard to leave my patients at the hospital without knowing what was going to happen to them next. There were a few serious mental health cases I dealt with on placement and I always found it difficult to process that I would not know whether they got better. This is the main reason why I wanted to go into social work - to be a part of the patient's recovery and continue to make a difference to that person's life beyond helping them at the onset of an incident," she explained.
Before deciding to go back to university, Nicole had been furloughed from her role as a director for a plumbing company where she is now working during the summer academic break. "During the period that I was on furlough, I felt helpless not being able to make an impact. Although I could have volunteered, I knew I could be making much more of a difference if I'd been a key worker during the pandemic. I realised if I was going to pursue a degree in social work, it had to be now or never. It was something I had been thinking about doing for quite some time and I needed to take action," she explained.
The commuter student said the remote learning experience during the Covid-19 pandemic gave her extra flexibility while looking after three young children – eight-year-old Jasmine, and Jensen and Peyton, aged three and one. "For me, it's been so valuable having the one-hour travel time back, to study and complete my assignments. With my children to also look after, I know I can't leave things to the last minute and I need to plan my time well, so not having to commute really helped me," she said.
Nicole has been making full use of Canvas, the University's Virtual Learning Environment, which she explained has enriched her learning experience. "I didn't have access to something like this when I was at university before, and it has made a huge difference. I'm able to view the work that we're going to be looking at and make notes beforehand. I feel fully prepared going into my classes and lectures which has really helped me make the most out of the sessions," she said.
In her second year of study, Nicole is looking forward to gaining professional experience in children's safeguarding, and in the long term is considering specialising in either mental health or palliative care.
Social Work BA (Hons) course leader Farrukh Akhtar praised Nicole's work ethic. "Nicole is very committed to the course. It amazes me how she manages to juggle studying with being a mum and a million other things. She is a thoughtful student and her previous experience as a paramedic offers interesting insights in lectures which others can learn from," she said. "The course has a mix of students from a range of social and professional backgrounds, including a high percentage of mature students. This makes the group discussions very interactive with the opportunity to learn from each other's real-life experiences," she added.
Nicole's advice for other mature students perhaps considering a career change and applying through Clearing is to take the chance, accept the challenge and live with no regrets. "I believe you are never too old to begin a new and rewarding career," she added.
For any other parents considering going back to full-time education she gave one piece of encouragement. "Spread your wings and knock down those stereotypes. Your journey does not simply end with motherhood," she said.