My Volunteering Journey into Public Health

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Whilst studying Biological Sciences at UWE Bristol, Emma Sheeran has used valuable volunteering experiences to shape her career goals

My experience with the Royal Voluntary Service as a Befriender has been invaluable, not only due to the friendship I have formed with my client Gwen, but also by developing my skill set and helping me to focus my goals towards a career centred around improving healthcare services. 

I was drawn to working with the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) when I learnt about the history of the organisation, which was previously known as the Women’s Voluntary Service. They are committed to tackling social challenges by supporting hospitals and communities nationally.

How did your volunteering journey begin?

I initially supported as a Home from Hospital volunteer with Gwen, an elderly woman to support her re-adjustment to life following one month in hospital with Pneumonia. I then moved in to a Befriender role so I could continue visiting Gwen, as we had developed a strong bond. We have been seeing each other weekly ever since. 

Gwen lacked confidence to go out alone on shopping trips, or to doctors appointments. My visits ensured she would leave the house at least once a week to get essentials, lift her mood, and exercise.  Her health was a common obstacle to her independence, on one occasion I had to call an ambulance and remain with her in hospital for the day as she became suddenly unwell before making it to the shops.

Especially around the time of her poor health, my support gave her reassurance and encouragement to leave her home. Working with Gwen improved my communication skills, as well as emotional resilience as I learnt not to dwell on or take home concerns about Gwen from our visits.

My experience of the NHS with Gwen, like the consequences of their successes and failures in her particular case, inspired me greatly to commit to pursuing a career in public health. 

Where did your volunteering experience take you next?

The RVS was the first organisation I had volunteered with in Bristol, so taking encouragement from the impact and enjoyment of my work with RVS, I began furthering my volunteer experiences.

I became a mentor for refugees and asylum seekers with Borderlands. I designed and conducted a study into student experiences accessing sexual health services with Healthwatch. And I wrote strategy plans for the African Health Organisation. 

I had a long time ambition to learn Arabic to aid my career in global health; focusing on Middle Eastern regions. Last year I was accepted onto an Arabic course at Tel Aviv University. To fund the course fees and accommodation, I applied for, and was granted, the WRVS Benevolent Trust Youth Bursary. (Volunteering over 50 hours with the RVS meant Emma was eligible to apply for this fund towards her career development.)

This greatly contributed to further opportunities, including a successful application to a Global Health Summer School with IPPNW/Charité in Berlin:  Health Between Ethics and Economisation.

What’s your next steps?

Both by building my skills for the future and experience within my own community through volunteering, my role as a Befriender and the Arabic course work as examples of my commitment to a career in improving health. This has now led to an opportunity extended to a position on the organising team of the next Global Health Summer School: Migration and Health 2019. 

Celebrating UWE Talent Award winners on the stage
Due to her fantastic efforts to develop her career goals Emma was runner up for the ‘Volunteer of the Year Award’ at Celebrating UWE Talent 2019

Confidence, Coding and Challenges: My NMI Placement

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Rob Barclay, Computer Science student from UWE Bristol, talks about his placement year at NMI

Throughout university, we are constantly told by tutors and professors that a work placement offers the most valuable experience of working in the ‘real world’, along with all the invaluable industry knowledge it brings. I’m happy to say that they couldn’t have been more right!  

I was aware of the close links NMI had with our university via previous students having had both fun and successful placements there, so it was highly recommended as a great place for me to get this valuable ‘real world’ experience. I saw that the company was creating real impact within the payment industry, processing millions of transactions yearly. 

How I went about finding a placement

First and foremost I had to show the company I wanted to work there. I sent in my CV and completed an online ‘code challenge’. The final stages of the process was a phone interview followed by a face to face interview.  

I would say that the best tip for an interview is to be as prepared as possible, this shows that you have a genuine interest in the company and learning new skills. I did loads of research and made sure I could really express why I was so keen to seize the opportunity!  

When I was offered the placement I immediately accepted the offer. Like all new jobs it seemed daunting at first. However, the company couldn’t have been more welcoming.  The team made me feel really relaxed along with a buzz that made me feel I wanted to work there.  From being able to dress casually to free fruit, and breakfast on a Wednesday.

What I did at NMI …

I joined the platform team, a group of 6 people; a team lead, four developers and one tester. All focusing on developing the central processing layer which is the fundamental server powering all our products and services. 

After some initial training, I was assigned my first task. This involved setting up the CI (continuous integration) for one of the company’s new flagship products. This is widely used within the software development industry as a whole is not touched at university. This experience has shown that it is necessary to have for my future career.  

I always felt in control of my workload and whilst the work was challenging, I always knew I was only ever expected to work to the best of my ability and I was able to ask for assistance.

Working life at NMI… 

Being surrounded by industry professionals helped increase my coding skills exponentially and complemented what I learned at university. I felt extremely supported by the team. It was also satisfying to be able to work on other projects where I could take the skills that I had picked up in my lectures and practicals, adapt them to the scope of the problem in front of me and create a solution that will potentially be used by thousands of people. It was an unexpected but great experience to know that I was making such a difference from the get-go. 

I have also had the chance to partake in company-wide presentations, cross-team meetings and representing the company to future candidates at UWE careers fair. All helping me increase my confidence and communication; both vital skills required in any industry.  

By adapting to a full-time job, focussed specifically on the field that I study, has given me a massive confidence boost for my final year, and future jobs to come. As previously mentioned, doing a placement is an invaluable experience and I’ve really enjoyed my time at NMI so far.  

I thoroughly recommend anyone considering doing a placement year to just go for it! 


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