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From soldier to nurse

Andy Minshull

My name is Andy Minshull, and I’m a Practice Educator within the NHS. However, for this article, I’m highlighting the role of the Registered General Nurse (RGN) within psychiatric settings as this was a very unique, challenging, rewarding and autonomous position.

I had an interesting route into the nursing profession. In 2000 I joined the Parachute Regiment of the British Army, a regiment renowned for its physical fitness and war fighting capability that requires a person with specific personal attributes to serve amongst its ranks.

After four years of service in the Parachute Regiment, I decided I wanted to specialise in something. I had always enjoyed first aid training, and so chose combat medicine. I spent the next seven years of my time in the Paras developing my medical skills and knowledge, to the point where I qualified as a Health Care Professions Council Paramedic in 2008. I absolutely loved my medical training, learning about:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Mechanisms of injury
  • Assessment skills and treatments.

I couldn’t get enough, and still have the same enthusiasm today (although in a different role). I can honestly say it’s been a privilege to care for the people I have, and in many different environments.

In 2010 I was posted from my unit to the Infantry Training Centre Catterick to provide medical support to those trying to gain entry into the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces. During this post, I attended a minor injury and minor illness course, and had the pleasure of listening to an accident and emergency nurse talk about assessment skills.

I was in awe; his knowledge and the way he articulated himself was inspiring, and at that point I thought “I want to be like you”. I chose to transfer from the Parachute Regiment to the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps to undertake a degree in nursing.

I have to admit, I was cautious about telling my colleagues I was going to be a nurse. At that time, I probably also viewed it as a female profession. However, on announcing my decision, all my colleagues were very supportive. They thought it was a great decision and hardly surprising given the medical work I had been involved in.

So, what is the purpose of explaining that? Firstly, even though we might set out on one career path, it’s never too late to try your hand at something completely different; something you would never have imagined doing. I was 30 when I started my nurse training and never thought I would be a nurse.

Secondly, the view that nursing is a profession for females is an outdated concept. I came from the Parachute Regiment, one of the toughest Regiments in the British Army. Colleagues of mine who have also gone on to have successful nursing careers have previously served in the Royal Marine Commandos, and as survival experts in the Royal Navy. Nursing is a fantastic career with many opportunities, and I love it. Any man wanting to join the profession should ignore any stereotypical, inaccurate connotations of male nurses, and throw yourself wholeheartedly into the job.

Having left the military in 2016, my first civilian job was as the RGN in an independent mental health hospital.

The role of RGN in mental health is a relatively new and developing role that’s trying to ‘‘bridge the gap’’ between mental and physical health. It provides me with a lot of autonomy and I was considered the subject matter expert in everything related to physical health. The role for me was about developing and supporting the service to improve its delivery of physical healthcare. I was involved in:

  • Delivering hands-on care, in particular wound management and managing long-term conditions such as diabetes
  • Responding, managing and leading medical emergencies
  • Writing and constructing evidence-based care plans in collaboration with my service users where possible
  • Establishing links with local services, such as sexual health
  • Writing, constructing, and delivering training
  • Conducting physical health assessment on admission paperwork audits, and using the information to consider ways of improving our physical health assessment on admission compliance
  • Organising and delivering health promotion strategies and activities
  • Organising, and running the yearly influenza vaccination programme
  • Overseeing assessment equipment ensuring it had been calibrated, including being responsible for the hospital crash bags
  • Setting up and chairing the Committee for Physical Health which met monthly to discuss initiatives to improve physical health and using specific national guidelines to facilitate this

I thoroughly enjoyed my time working as RGN in a mental health hospital and embraced the unique challenges and autonomy the role provided. It also allowed me to exercise all the skills I learned in the Army, including:

  • Organisation
  • Time management
  • Resourcefulness
  • Using initiative
  • Working under pressure
  • Adapting to an ever-changing environment and situation.

Nursing and healthcare professions today offer people such an exciting, challenging and rewarding career. It’s full of opportunities to develop professionally and personally, as well as the diverse routes available in relation to specialising in a specific area of care. I think there’s never been a better time to consider a career in healthcare, and this will always be this nation’s first and last line of defence in ensuring our public are safe and well looked-after.





Even though we might set out on one career path, it’s never too late to try your hand at something completely different; something you would never have imagined doing

Andy Minshull